Two foreigners and an Afghan helping the United Nations prepare for landmark elections were killed in an attack in a remote eastern province, a senior Afghan official said Wednesday.
"I confirm that there was an attack by a number of people and two foreigners and one Afghan were killed," Deputy Interior Minister Hilalludin Hilal told The Associated Press.
The attack occurred Tuesday, Hilal said. It was not immediately clear where the foreigners were from or if they were U.N. employees.
Hilal said the three were surveying Nuristan province as part of U.N. plans to register voters for the September election.
"They had already visited two districts and it was the third district that they wanted to survey," Hilal said. "I'm not sure about the identity of the foreigners."
A U.N. spokesman had no immediate comment and officials in Nuristan couldn't be reached.
The United Nations is pressing ahead with plans to register 10 million Afghan voters across the country, despite a surge in violence by Taliban-led militants.
The world body has already registered almost 2 million Afghans in eight major cities for the election, but only began on Saturday to sign up voters in the lawless countryside.
The world body has warned that the vote will fail if security is not improved, and has already had to suspend or delay registration work in the south and east of the country in response to several attacks.
10 Afghan soldiers found dead after abductions
A day earlier, the bullet-ridden bodies of 10 government soldiers were found in southern Afghanistan, hours after the men were abducted in two raids by suspected Taliban militants.
A senior Afghan military commander said five militia soldiers were found dead on a mountainside in Niamashien district of Kandahar province, some 150 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul.
Khan Mohammed said Taliban assailants took the men during an attack on the district chief’s office just after midnight Tuesday.
“They were alive when they were captured, but they’d been shot with AK-47s when they were found,” Mohammed said. He said more troops had been dispatched from Kandahar to investigate and search for the culprits.
Earlier, troops sent to search for five Afghan National Army soldiers abducted in Zabul province found their bodies in the Sur Ghogan area, about 240 miles southwest of Kabul, Zabul Gov. Khial Mohammed said.
“We found the bodies and the Taliban took their vehicle,” Mohammed said. “They were all shot in the stomach and chest.”
Officials say the troops were kidnapped on Monday when suspected Taliban fighters stopped their vehicle between Shahjoy and the provincial capital, Qalat, on the main road from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Abdul Hakim Latifi, said Monday that the group had taken the men, but also said they were safe and that conditions for their release would be discussed later.
Ramped up attacks
Taliban-led militants have ramped up attacks in recent weeks, killing dozens of Afghan soldiers and civilians, and bringing the death toll from violence across the country to more than 300 this year.
Authorities appear to have little control in Zabul, where officials said four Afghan soldiers and two civilians were killed by mines and dozens of Taliban fighters attacked a government office in a remote district on Sunday.
In neighboring Paktika province, an Afghan commander said his men fired artillery in response to five rockets aimed at their base on the Pakistani border.
Gen. Zakim Khan said there were no casualties in the attack on Sunday night at Lwara, a new base that his border division shares with U.S. special forces, about 120 miles south of Kabul.
“The fire came from inside Afghanistan,” he said. “We fired back and they showed no more reaction.”
Further north, an official in Khost province said U.S. helicopters had fired several rockets into the mountains near the Pakistani border on Monday.
The target was unclear, the official said on condition of anonymity.
U.S. military officials in Kabul didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Poor security threatens to upset plans for the country’s first post-Taliban elections slated for September, despite the presence of some 15,000 mainly U.S. troops pursuing insurgents and 6,000 NATO-led peacekeepers.
Some prisoners who were released and flown back to Afghanistan recently complained of torture at Guantanamo, saying they were abused and deprived of sleep. Officials at Guantanamo say interrogations are often done at night but deny mistreating the detainees.
Human rights groups say the detainees’ indefinite detention is another form of abuse.