KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Afghan troops killed 11 Taliban militants in separate raids while insurgents ambushed and shot dead three policemen across volatile southern Afghanistan, officials said Saturday. Taliban militants also threatened to execute an Indian hostage.
Nine Taliban militants were killed during fighting that raged late Friday into Saturday, while 12 insurgents, including top commanders, were captured in a joint Afghan-coalition operation in Panjwayi, a western district in the southern Kandahar province, said Gov. Asadullah Khalid.
Khalid said seven more Taliban members were wounded and carried away by fleeing militants.
Later Saturday morning, about 50 Afghan soldiers and police attacked a Taliban camp hidden in mountains in the Kajaki district, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah, local Afghan army commander Gen. Rahmattalluh Roufi said.
After a one-hour battle, Afghan forces ventured into the mountains and found caves that had been used by Taliban militants. The bodies of two killed militants were found, along with several machine guns, Roufi said.
Late Friday on a remote road outside the Helmand provincial town of Baghran, Taliban militants concealed in mountains fired on a vehicle carrying four policemen, killing three of them and wounding the other, said police official Haji Rafiq Khan.
Taliban militants have been blamed for a spike in violence across Afghanistan's southern provinces, which were long strongholds of the hardline regime that was toppled in late 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion.
Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, who releases regular statements on behalf of outlawed Taliban fighters, accused Indian hostage K. Suryanarayana of being an "American spy" and told The Associated Press that he would be executed if all Indians working in Afghanistan don't leave within 24 hours starting 6 p.m. (1330 GMT) Saturday.
Suryanarayana, a telecommunications engineer from Hyderabad, was held up at gunpoint while driving Friday afternoon on the Kandahar-Kabul highway in the Hassan Kariez district of Zabul, the scene of a recent spate of increased militant activity.
India's ambassador to Kabul, Rakesh Sood, said the threat was "not a very positive development."
Suryanarayana, a father of three aged in his early 40s, has been employed in Afghanistan since January by a Bahrain-based company, al-Moayed. The company has been contracted by an Afghan mobile phone company, Roshan, to expand its network across volatile provinces in southern Afghanistan.
Sood said he believed Taliban militants had kidnapped Suryanarayana, but added that the hostage-takers had not yet made contact with Indian authorities. Indian, Afghan, U.S.-led coalition and Roshan authorities are working to secure the hostage's release, Sood said.
In Hyderabad, Suryanarayana's relatives said they were devastated by the execution threat, which they learned of through media reports.
"We are shocked to the core and don't know what will happen next," said his wife, Manjula.
The kidnapping was the first here since four Macedonians of Albanian descent were kidnapped and killed in March, purportedly by Taliban militants.
Meanwhile, a child herding cows accidentally detonated an anti-tank mine south of Kabul, killing two children and wounding two others, police said Saturday.
Afghanistan is littered with land mines left over from almost three decades of conflict.