LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Seven Afghan policemen were killed in an attack on a checkpoint in the southern city of Lashkar Gah Monday, a government spokesman said, two days before NATO-led troops hand over security control to Afghan forces.
In western Afghanistan, two people were beheaded a week after they and 33 others were kidnapped, apparently for supporting the government, and in the south a police chief and three policemen were killed by a bomb.
Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the governor of southern Helmand province, confirmed the Lashkar Gah attack and said seven police were killed.
Lashkar Gah is the capital of volatile Helmand province and the most contentious of the first seven areas to be formally handed over by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force Wednesday.
ISAF handed security control in central Bamiyan province to Afghan forces Sunday, the start of a transition process that will end with all foreign combat troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
The violence Monday coincided with the handover of command of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan to U.S. Marine Corps General John Allen from General David Petraeus, Washington’s new intelligence chief.
In western Farah province, two beheaded bodies were sent back to their families in Mughul Abad village, a day after 16 of those kidnapped were released, said village elder Hajji Saydo January The fate of the rest of the group was unclear.
“These people are ordinary people in the village, but the kidnappers said they had a connection with the government,” Saydo Jan told Reuters by phone.
The Taliban said it had no information about the kidnappings, which officials said took place on July 11.
Provincial security official Abdul Rashid confirmed that two people had been beheaded and 16 people released. He said one person had been killed on the same day as the kidnapping.
The first half of this year was the deadliest six months for civilians in the last decade of conflict in Afghanistan, with nearly 1,500 killed, the United Nations said in a recent report.
Officials from the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross said last week that civilians were under increasing pressure to choose sides in the war, putting their security more at risk.
Monday, the police chief for Registaan district and three policemen were killed by a roadside bomb in the volatile southern province of Kandahar, the provincial government’s media office posted on Twitter.
There were a record 11,826 security incidents in the first half of 2011, according to the United Nations Department of Safety and Security, up from 8,242 in the same period last year and more than double the number in the first half of 2009.
While the southern and southeastern provinces accounted for nearly two-thirds of the incidents between January and June 2011, the western region experienced the highest monthly growth rate, the department said.
Additional reporting by Abdul Malik in Helmand, Sharafuddin Sharafyar in Herat, and Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Writing by Michelle Nichols, editing by Tim Pearce