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Fifteen Afghan Police Killed In Separate Attacks

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- Fifteen Afghan policemen were killed at their posts in two separate attacks today in Afghanistan, officials said, in one of the bloodiest days for the force in many months.

Eight policemen were killed when insurgents attacked their checkpoint shortly after midnight in the relatively secure northern Baghlan Province. Hours later, three policemen turned on their own colleagues, shooting dead seven other policemen in the restive southern province of Helmand.

Two of the policemen involved in the attack in Helmand have been arrested and the third surrendered to Taliban insurgents, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.

Thousands of mostly U.S. and British troops are fighting an insurgency in Helmand, which has killed record numbers of foreign and Afghan troops this year. Last month, an Afghan policeman, who the Taliban said was one of their fighters, killed five British soldiers in Helmand.

"They [the three assailants] opened small arms fire on the seven policemen while they were in bed," Dawoodi said.

It was not immediately clear if the three men were Taliban infiltrators or wanted to defect to the Islamist group.

Both U.S. and Afghan military commanders have complained about the Afghan police force's lack of discipline and poor training in the field, particularly in remote districts where they tend to be poorly educated and locally recruited.

A senior police official in Baghlan, Zalmai Mangal, said the raid there was carried out by loyalists of Hezb-i-Islami, an Islamist group led by former fugitive Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Another provincial official said the militants used small arms and rocket propelled grenades in the attack. No one guarding the post survived, said the official who also put the police deaths at eight.

The Baghlan incident was the worst for the police in the province since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban government from power in 2001.

The insurgents are mostly active in the south and eastern regions where they routinely are engaged in clashes with Afghan and foreign forces led by NATO and the U.S. military.

They have also managed to carry out sporadic attacks against Afghan and foreign troops in some parts of the north this year, the bloodiest period in the war, which has entered its ninth year.

As part of a strategy to reverse Taliban advances, U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Washington has said it will start the process of withdrawal in July 2011.

Some 110,000 foreign troops are already fighting the insurgents in Afghanistan.