KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The decapitated bodies of four Afghan men were discovered days after armed men abducted them, an official said Friday. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the killings.
Local residents found two bodies on Thursday near their homes in the southern Zabul provincial district of Shahjoy, and two more near the same area Friday, said the Zabul governor's spokesman, Ali Khail.
The men had been kidnapped at gunpoint from the village of Chinoh, Khail said.
A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousof Ahmadi, contacted The Associated Press by telephone and said the Taliban killed the men because they had been spying for Afghan and coalition forces. His claim could not be immediately verified.
Police have been sent to the area to investigate the deaths, said Khail. But he denied the Taliban claims that the victims were spies, saying the men killed "were civilians who had no link to the Afghan government or the coalition."
It is not the first time that Afghans have been attacked for being linked to the coalition in a bid to derail this country's U.S.-backed reconstruction.
On June 15, a bomb hidden on a minibus carrying Afghan workers to a coalition base in the neighboring province of Kandahar exploded, killing seven people and wounding 17.
More than four years after U.S.-led forces toppled the extremist Taliban government, the country is gripped by its deadliest spate of post-invasion violence.
To try to curb the bloodshed, more than 10,000 coalition forces have launched their largest offensive against militants across southern Afghanistan.
Fourteen militants have been killed in Afghan and coalition raids across southern Afghanistan, the military said. Four U.S. soldiers were also killed in eastern Afghanistan
On Thursday, a raid was conducted on a "known" Taliban compound northwest of Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan province, killing eight militants, the coalition said. Six others were captured.
Another six extremists were killed Wednesday during an attack in Sangin district of southern Helmand province, the military said. They had been involved in weapons smuggling and planned attacks on Afghan and coalition forces.
On Thursday, President Hamid Karzai decried the intense violence racking the south, which has left more than 600 people dead, mostly militants, since May, saying a new tactic must be found in the war on terror.
Karzai said the current focus on hunting Taliban militants didn't address terrorism's root causes.
"We must engage strategically in disarming terrorism by stopping their sources of supply of money, training, equipment and motivation," he said.
But Karzai, who has previously scorned large-scale anti-militant campaigns, rejected the continued spilling of Afghan blood in military operations.
"It is not acceptable for us that in all this fighting, Afghans are dying. In the last three to four weeks, 500 to 600 Afghans were killed," a clearly frustrated Karzai said.
Karzai said Afghanistan has received considerable help in reconstruction fields, but has not been given the assistance needed to strengthen its police force, army and government administration.
A February donors conference in London pledged $10.5 billion in new aid for Afghanistan — most for improving security. About 37,000 new soldiers and more than 50,000 police have been trained but many more are needed.
Also on Thursday, Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri released a new tape — his sixth this year — calling on Afghans to rise up against coalition forces, prompting Karzai to label him "an enemy of Afghan people."
Al-Zawahri and al-Qaida leader bin Laden, who were hosted by the Taliban before their ouster, are now believed to be hiding in the rugged border frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan.