The Associated Press
Friday, April 27, 2007; 6:57 AM
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban militants have seized control of a district in eastern Afghanistan after an hours-long clash that killed five people, including the local mayor and his police chief, a senior official said Friday.
The Taliban takeover is an embarrassment to the Afghan government and its foreign backers, and shows how vulnerable remote areas remain despite the presence of some 47,000 U.S. and NATO troops.
Militants launched the attack Thursday evening on the Giro district of Ghazni province, setting fire to several buildings and cutting communication lines, said provincial deputy governor Kazim Allayer.
The district mayor and four policemen, including the police chief, were killed in a battle that lasted several hours, Allayer said. Police reinforcements have been sent to the area, Ghazni's deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said.
Giro is about 200 miles east of northern Helmand province, where a large NATO operation is under way.
"Giro collapsed last night, captured by the Taliban after heavy fighting between the police and the Taliban," said Gen. Murad Ali, deputy regional corps commander of the Afghan army.
The Afghan army sent troops early Friday from Ghazni and Paktika to assist, Ali said.
NATO and the U.S.-led coalition said they were aware of the incident.
"The details are very sketchy right now. We're tracking it closely," said Maj. William Mitchell, a spokesman for the coalition.
After a winter lull in attacks, the Taliban have stepped up bombings and attacks in recent weeks, as NATO-led forces push forward with their biggest ever offensive in southern Afghanistan to root out militants in the opium-producing heartland of Helmand province.
Meanwhile in eastern Khost province, gunmen assassinated a criminal investigation policeman as he was driving Friday in Tani district, said provincial police chief Gen. Mohammad Ayub.
A relative in the car also was killed, and the driver was wounded, Ayub said, adding that two suspects have been arrested. It was not immediately clear if it was a personal conflict or an insurgency attack.
In southern Uruzgan, Taliban militants ambushed a police convoy patrolling late Wednesday night, and the ensuing clash left four policemen and six Taliban dead, said provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Qasim Khan.