IMAGE: AFGHAN POPPY FIELD
Tariq Mahmood  /  AFP-Getty Images
Officials destroy opium poppies in Yakka Ghund, Afghanistan, on Wednesday. Several such operations have been attacked in recent weeks.
updated 4/13/2008 12:25:47 PM ET 2008-04-13T16:25:47

Militants launched two attacks against Afghanistan's vulnerable police, killing eight officers, including four who were destroying a field of opium poppies, officials said Sunday.

Kandahar provincial police chief Sayed Agha Saqib said the militants killed four eradication police in the province's Maiwand district on Saturday. The attack is at least the third time militants have targeted such teams in the last several weeks and comes one week after fighters killed seven officers who were eradicating poppies.

Saqib has said police would increase the teams' protection. Around 100 officers on the country's poppy eradication force were killed in the line of duty over the last year, the Interior Ministry has said.

Militants or criminal gangs who attack the eradication teams are trying to protect a business that provides them with tens of millions of dollars a year. Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world's illicit opium, the main ingredient in heroin. Taliban fighters and other criminals charge taxes on farmers' harvests and for safe passage of the crop.

Farmers cultivated a record 477,000 acres of opium in 2007, a 14 percent increase over the previous year. Total production, spurred by unusually high rainfall, increased even further, by 34 percent, to 9,000 tons, the U.N. has said.

Elsewhere in the south, Taliban fighters attacked a police checkpoint in the Gereshk district of Helmand province overnight, said district police chief Khair Uddin Shuja.

Police dispatched backup to the checkpoint, but Taliban militants ambushed one of the police trucks, killing four officers and wounding seven, he said.

Militants killed more than 900 police officers last year. Police are inviting targets because they have less training and weaponry and work in smaller teams than Afghan or NATO soldiers.

Last year was the most violent in Afghanistan since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban. More than 8,000 people, mostly militants, died in insurgency related violence, according to the U.N.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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