KUNDUZ, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Taliban rebels killed eight Afghan police officers Thursday in northern Kunduz, an official said, stepping up strikes in what was once a relatively secure part of Afghanistan.
The attack happened just before dawn when the police were asleep, Kunduz Governor Mohammad Omar told reporters. One policeman was wounded and one managed to escape, he said, lowering his earlier death toll of nine.
Residents said there were some casualties among civilians, but details were not immediately available.
The Taliban, largely active in their traditional bastion of support in the south and east, have increased attacks in recent months in some areas of the north despite the presence of around 150,000 foreign forces in the country.
Kunduz has been the focus of attacks in the north and insurgents are increasingly using it as a base to launch attacks elsewhere in the region.
Early this month, a Taliban suicide bomber killed seven policemen in Kunduz. As a sign of their growing strength in the province, the Taliban publicly stoned to death a young woman and a man accused of an illicit affair.
President Hamid Karzai says the rising insecurity in Afghanistan is linked to the presence of training bases as well as sanctuaries for Taliban leaders in neighboring Pakistan.
In a meeting Thursday with General James Mattis, new head of U.S. military command for Iraq and Afghanistan, Karzai raised that issue, as he regularly does with U.S. officials.
“As long as the terrorists’ havens are not annihilated, the war in the villages of Afghanistan will not succeed,” he said in a statement issued by his office.
U.S. President Barack Obama has described Afghanistan as his top foreign policy priority and wants to reduce the number of its soldiers in the country by mid-2011.
In the face of rising Taliban attacks, the top U.S. Marine, General James Conway, this week said Obama’s timeline to begin withdrawing troops had given a morale boost to the insurgents who believe they can wait out foreign forces.
With public opinion of the conflict souring as casualties rise, Conway’s unusually blunt assessment will likely fan criticism of Obama’s war strategy ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November and a strategy review a month later.
Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani