15 Guards Killed in Taliban Ambush: Afghan Police

Fifteen Afghan security guards working for a private US firm were killed in a Taliban ambush in western Afghanistan on Tuesday, police said.

File photo shows soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on patrol in Farah province (Photo: AFP)

Nine other guards with the company, identified as USPI, were wounded in the attack in Farah province, a local police official, Colonel Saydo Khan, told AFP.

The guards were escorting a civilian supply convoy to a Western military base when they were attacked in the district of Bala Buluk, he said.

"Taliban ambushed them. Fifteen guards were killed and nine others were injured," Khan said.

Police reinforcements had been sent to the area and were fighting the attackers in a nearby village, he said from the scene.

"I can see the bodies of the guards. We have evacuated the wounded to the hospital," he said.

Provincial governor Mohaiuddin Baluch confirmed the incident but had no details of the casualties.

Farah neighbors southern Helmand province -- the Taliban's biggest stronghold -- and has seen growing unrest in the past year, with the militants able to briefly capture several districts in recent months.

The insurgents regularly attack convoys that supply military bases in the region and have also targeted food aid convoys from the World Food Program.

US-based USPI has previously lost several men in the country, where violence has intensified in a Taliban-led insurgency launched after the extremists were removed from government by a US-led invasion in late 2001.

The attack comes as the Pentagon confirmed that the US military and its NATO partners were reviewing plans for Afghanistan, rocked by its bloodiest year since 2001 amid a fierce Taliban resurgence.

The sharp rise in violence in Afghanistan contrasts strongly with the improvement in security in Iraq, where some 160,000 US forces are concentrated.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates "encouraged NATO to take a longer range view on Afghanistan" during talks with ministers from eight NATO countries in Edinburgh last week, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.

"As a result of that Centcom (US Central Command) will tell you they are reviewing their own Afghanistan plan," he said, adding "these are things that complement each other."

2007 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the extremist Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001. The US has just 26,000 troops deployed there.

There were 77 suicide attacks just in the first six months -- about twice the number for the same period last year and 26 times higher than from January to June 2005, according to a United Nations survey. Toward the end of this year that figure had risen to around 140.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the United States had launched a thorough review of its military, economic and diplomatic strategy amid worries about the lack of progress.

Pressed by the US to contribute more to Afghanistan, NATO, which runs the 40,000-strong International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, is also reviewing ways to confront rising Taliban attacks, an Al-Qaeda resurgence and a bumper opium crop.

Source: AFP

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