KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Taliban militants attacked a group of police officers sleeping on the mud floor of an isolated roadside checkpoint early Monday in southern Afghanistan, killing 11 in the latest assault against the nation's vulnerable police force.
Meanwhile, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said two of its soldiers were killed and two wounded in a separate explosion Sunday in the south. The British Defense Ministry confirmed that two Royal Air Force servicemen were killed in when their vehicle hit an explosive device.
Insurgents apparently sneaked up on the police checkpoint 15 miles north of Kandahar — the Taliban's former stronghold — just after midnight, killing an officer who was supposed to be keeping watch but who may have fallen asleep, said Mohammad Rauf, a policeman sent as a replacement.
Militants walked into the mud-brick compound and opened fire on the officers, who were sleeping on simple mattresses and blankets on the dirt floor, Rauf said.
Of the 12 police officers at the compound, 11 were killed and one was seriously wounded, he said.
After the attack, the compound, which is on the road leading from Kandahar to Uruzgan province, was filled with bloodstained blankets and the black shoes the police took off before they went to sleep.
Militants killed more than 925 Afghan police last year — more than 10 percent of the country's 8,000 insurgency-related deaths documented by the U.N.
Police make inviting targets for Taliban attacks. They have less training and less firepower than the Afghan army or NATO soldiers. They also tend to work in small teams in remote parts of the country where they can easily be overwhelmed by a small insurgent force.
Jahi Karim Jan Agha said he could hear the burst of gunfire from his nearby home, which sits in a region filled with pomegranate orchards and grape fields, all good cover for militants trying to launch an attack. An hour after the gunfire stopped, he and some neighbors went to investigate, and found the slain police.
"I'm very upset about this. Even though they are police, they are Afghans," he said. "These policemen are fathers, they have a wife, they have parents."
The ambush was the latest in a string of recent attacks on police in the south. Eight police were killed Saturday — four while destroying opium poppies in Kandahar and four who were manning a checkpoint in Helmand. Seven police on the poppy-eradication force were killed April 7 in Kandahar.
U.S. officials say police are the focus of Taliban attacks because they are the weakest link in the country's security chain. Taliban militants often suffer devastating losses when they attack U.S. or NATO forces that have been stationed in the country since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that drove the Taliban from power.
They have also largely abandoned ambush attempts against the increasingly capable Afghan army.