Five Kidnapped Afghan Soldiers Found Dead

The bullet-riddled bodies of five government soldiers were found in southern Afghanistan Tuesday, a day after they were abducted by suspected Taliban, an Afghan official said.

Troops sent to search for the five Afghan National Army (search) soldiers found their bodies in the Sur Ghogan area of Zabul province, about 240 miles southwest of the capital, 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 stopped their vehicle between Shahjoy and the provincial capital Qalat, on the main road from Kabul to the southern city of Kandahar (search).

A purported spokesman for the Taliban, Abdul Hakim Latifi, said on Monday that it had taken the men, but also said they were safe and that conditions for their release would be discussed later.

Taliban-led militants have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks, killing dozens of Afghan soldiers and civilians, and bringing the death toll in 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 (search), 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.