The Washington Post

27 Afghan police officers kidnapped by Taliban in remote northern district

Taliban fighters kidnapped more than two dozen Afghan police officers during an assault in the northeastern corner of the country that also left eight officers dead, officials said.

The attack in Badakhshan province’s Yamgam district began Tuesday and continued for more than a day. The number of Taliban fighters involved remains unclear, but Asadullah, the police chief of neighboring Jurm district, said there were 250 to 300 insurgents.

“The police force, after fighting, had to retreat to a cave,” said Asadullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name. “They ran out of ammunition and food, and that is how the Taliban took 27 of them as captives.”

Because the district is so remote, it was impossible to provide additional Afghan military or police support during the fighting, officials said.

“The district headquarters has fallen to the Taliban after they launched an attack. Because of the bad weather, we could not send reinforcements. We are [now] sending police to take the district center,” Sediq Seddiqi, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said a day after the attack. He added that at least eight police officers were killed in the fighting Tuesday and Wednesday.

Some Afghan officials said they were not yet ready to confirm the kidnapping.

“A number of police have disappeared,” said the province’s deputy police chief, Abdul Qadir Sayad. “We do not know how many have been taken by the Taliban and how many have fled to their homes.”

It is not the first time the Taliban has targeted a remote unit of police officers or troops. In February, 21 Afghan soldiers were killed when insurgents overran their outpost in Konar province. In September, a police unit in Badakhshan was attacked, leaving 18 officers dead.

This week’s assault could prove deadlier than those — and possibly any other previous attack on Afghan forces — if the abducted officers are executed, as many fear.

The Yamgam attack underscores the vulnerability of far-flung Afghan units, which lack the air support that once accompanied U.S. forces in remote, mountainous districts. For more than a year, U.S. and Afghan military officials have tried to assess how much ground Afghan forces could cover without spreading themselves too thin. Typically, Afghan officials have pushed hard to keep units in remote districts, sometimes against the counsel of their Western counterparts.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said in an e-mail that militants had taken 27 police officers in a “special operation” after seizing the district headquarters.

Among the hostages, Mujahid said, were the deputy head of intelligence for the district and the head of the district prison. He said the operation was part of the Taliban’s spring offensive, which the group launched this month.

Also Wednesday, Afghan officials said they found the bodies of eight police officers in southern Zabul province who had disappeared more than a week ago.

Kevin Sieff has been The Post’s bureau chief in Nairobi since 2014. He served previously as the bureau chief in Kabul and had covered the U.S. -Mexico border.

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