KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – A gunbattle pitting dozens of Taliban fighters against Afghan security forces left four militants dead Sunday as authorities found the beheaded bodies of three police missing for days dumped in a field, police and officials said.
The police disappeared Friday in Helmand Province and authorities recovered their decapitated bodies Sunday after a tip from villagers, said Ghulam Muhiedin, a top regional official.
He blamed the Taliban, who are believed behind days of stepped-up attacks that stand as some of the worst violence since the militia's 2001 ouster by U.S.-led forces.
"They were beheaded by the Taliban and now we're searching for Taliban there," he said of the area near the farming plot where the bodies were discovered.
In a separate incident, rebels detonated a roadside bomb near an Afghan police patrol, sparking an hour-long gun battle that left four militants dead, police said.
Four police were wounded in the bombing, which set off the clash between police forces and "dozens" of militants in central Afghanistan's Ghazni Province, said Abdul Rehman Surjung, the regional police chief.
Police suffered no casualties in the fighting, he said.
Surjung said the militants carried their dead off the battlefield. But witnesses to the early afternoon fighting 75 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, reported four militants dead, he said.
Police recovered Kalashnikov assault rifles left behind by the militants, Surjung said.
As many as 369 people, mostly militants, have died in an upsurge of violence since May 17, according to Afghan and coalition figures. Because of the difficulty of accessing the scenes of combat, those figures could not be confirmed independently.
Militants have increased their attacks in the last several months across Afghanistan's southern and eastern regions near the border with Pakistan. The U.S. military says it has seen an increase in the number of Taliban fighters, particularly in the south.