Taliban militants ambushed a group of Afghan police while they were eating lunch in a remote and dangerous part of southern Afghanistan, killing 20 officers and one of the policeman's mother, an Afghan official said Thursday.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said two Taliban were killed and four wounded during the ambush. Ahmadi claimed 32 police were killed, but that number had not been confirmed by Afghan officials.
The attack came Wednesday in the small village of Shaghzay in the district of Kajaki in Helmand province, said Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand's governor. He said 20 police — bodyguards for the district chief of nearby Musa Qala — were killed. Musa Qala for many months of 2007 had been held by Taliban fighters.
The mother of one of the police pleaded with the militants to spare her son's life, and she was also killed, Ahmadi said.
Parallel Taliban government
The region between Musa Qala and Kajaki is filled with Taliban militants, and the Afghan government has little control outside of main district centers. Taliban fighters operate their own parallel government in the region, sometimes called a shadow government.
The Taliban's shadow police chief for Helmand province, Mullah Mohammad Qassim, claimed in a call to The Associated Press that one of the policemen in the group of bodyguards was a Taliban sympathizer and had helped set up the ambush. There was no way to confirm the claim.
Afghan police have less training and weapons than Afghan soldiers, and they often bear the brunt of Taliban attacks. At least 870 police were killed in attacks in 2008, including the 20 killed in Helmand. Some 925 died in 2007.
Meanwhile, NATO said two of its soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday. One of the troops was identified as British. The second soldier's nationality was not immediately released.
A record 151 U.S. forces died in Afghanistan in 2008, the deadliest year yet in a seven-year war that military officials say is likely to get even bloodier in 2009, as thousands more American troops pour into the country.
The number of roadside bombs doubled from the year before to roughly 2,000, with many of the devices more powerful than in previous years.