KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Suspected Taliban (search) militants stormed the office of an Afghan relief organization early Sunday, killing three workers and wounding four police officers in a pre-dawn shootout, officials said.
Police said six vehicles carrying about 30 gunmen raced up to the office of the Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (search) in Delaram, a town in southwestern Nimroz province, early Sunday.
"A cook, a night watchman and another employee were asleep in the first room," Najamuddin Mojaddedi, the group's regional head, told The Associated Press. "The Taliban shot them dead."
Another watchman was missing, Mojaddedi said.
"The Taliban are just killing innocent people trying to help their country," Mojaddedi said. "I don't understand why they do this."
The attack and the recently resolved kidnappings of three U.N. staffers highlight the dangers the country still faces despite landmark elections designed to bring political stability three years after the Taliban's ouster.
Security forces who rushed to the scene Sunday fought the gunmen for about an hour. Four police officers were injured before the militants withdrew, deputy police chief Mohammed Rassoul said.
It was unclear if the attackers suffered any casualties.
The three fatalities were the first for aid workers in Afghanistan since Aug. 3, when two Afghans working for the German Malteser agency died in a hail of gunfire in southeastern Paktia province.
More than 40 relief and reconstruction workers have died this year, restricting the flow of international aid to the impoverished south and east, where the militants are strongest.
Mojaddedi said his group would decide whether to pull out of the region, where it has worked for 14 years on agricultural projects.
In Delaram, it distributes seeds on behalf of the U.N. World Food Program and builds schools and wells with the help of Dutch and Italian relief groups.