More than 20 Afghan policemen feared dead after Taliban fighters attack checkpoint

Attack follows a similar assault last month which killed 19 officers

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The Independent Online

At least 20 Afghan policemen have been killed after Taliban fighters overran checkpoints in the south of the war-riven nation.

The policemen, stationed in Musa Qala district in Helmand province, were ambushed by the extremist fighters early on Saturday.

It remains unclear exactly how many policemen died – or how many Taliban were killed in the assault.

Omar Zwak, the spokesperson for Helmand Province’s governor, told the New York Times: “It’s a big loss. We are saddened.”

Witnesses described how the Taliban surrounded the checkpoints – established last year – and razed it to the ground, carefully planting IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and booby traps along the roads to catch fleeing defenders, as well as preventing support.

“We do not have modern weapons to fight the Taliban and have no aircraft to target them,” said a police officer from Musa Qala, speaking to the NYT on condition of anonymity.

Lack of air support, compounded by the coalition’s withdrawal, has hamstrung Afghan security forces who are struggling to cope with the Taliban’s resurgence and the shadowy appearance of Isis-linked forces in the country.

The latest assault will come as a blow to the government, recently forced to admit that four districts (out of just over 300) had been retaken by the Taliban, and follows a deadly Taliban attack last month that killed 19 police officers.

Fighters have been attacking vulnerable checkpoints across the country since the launch of their summer offensive in April.

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"Fighting is going on almost everywhere compared to last year, and many places are under threat of enemy attack," Afghan army General Afzel Aman, the head of the Defence Ministry's operational department, said.

Since the US and UK withdrawal, Afghan losses have soared. The beleaguered armed forces lost 2,322 officers between 1 January and 7 May this year alone.

In perspective, in the fifteen years since the 2001 invasion, 2,670 UK and US soldiers died in Afghanistan.

Additional reporting by Press Association