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Afghanistan: Police Chief Says Smugglers Helped Taliban With Ambush

Police show drugs seized in Afghanistan in May (file photo) Afghanistan's Interior Ministry says at least 18 police officers were killed on 10 October when suspected Taliban fighters in the western province of Helmand ambushed their convoy. But Helmand Province's police commander tells RFE/RL he thinks local drug smugglers near the border with Pakistan also were involved. The bold attack took place shortly before nightfall, within 10 kilometers of the border with Pakistan, with the battle continuing into the early hours of 11 October. It was the deadliest assault ever against the fledgling Afghan National Police -- and one of the worst attacks in months against members of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition.

Prague, 11 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Interior Ministry spokesman Yusef Stanizai says some 150 officers from the Afghan National Police came under attack on 10 October while traveling in a convoy with a new police chief for the southernmost part of Helmand Province:

"[On 10 October] around 5 or 6 p.m. [local time], a convoy of Afghan National Police was on its way to introduce a newly appointed district police chief to security officers," Stanizai said. "But they were ambushed by the enemies of Afghanistan. Clashes between the police and these enemies continued until about 1 o'clock in the morning. As a result, 18 members of the Afghan National Police were martyred -- including a top security official, [Helmand's Deputy Police Chief] Amanullah Khan."

The apparent target of the attack was Mohammad Wali, who had recently been named to head security in the Registan district of Helmand Province. That arid region forms part of Afghanistan's southwestern border with Pakistan -- just across from the Chagai Hills in Balochistan. Afghan officials say Wali escaped the ambush without injury.

Stanizai said the attackers also suffered casualties, but he did not say how many.

Anatomy Of The Attack

The attack took place about 5 kilometers from the border village of Bahram Chah. It is a tiny community nestled in the Afghan part of the Chagai Hills, and the terrain is carved with channels that are ideal for ambushes.

Helmand Province Police Chief General Abdul Rahman traveled to Bahram Chah on 11 October to investigate the attack.

"There is a ravine there," Rahman told RFE/RL. "The attackers surrounded the ravine on all sides. The police convoy drove right into this ambush, and after the attack began, [the police] tried to flee toward one hill. But they were fired upon from all sides because [the attackers] were positioned everywhere along this ravine."

Five police cars were destroyed, and the attackers reportedly seized a sixth police vehicle. A spokesman for Taliban fighters on 11 October claimed responsibility for the ambush. But Rahman says he suspects that drug smugglers who live in Bahram Chah also were involved.

"Cars and other resources [used in the attack] belonged to smugglers," Rahman said. "The Taliban [in this area] rely on smugglers now. In this situation, if the smugglers did not support the Taliban with supplies, the Taliban would not have anything. Whether it is weapons or anything else, it all belongs to the smugglers."

Poverty And Drugs

Rahman says that with little rainfall and poor roads, Bahram Chah is not well suited for farming or other business. But he says its location close to the border -- amid the hills that rise up from Afghanistan's southwestern desert -- make it an ideal location for smugglers.

"Here in Bahram Chah, people don't have any [legitimate] businesses or sources of income," he said. "The only way for people to earn a living is through smuggling. And these smugglers don't want the [central] government and administration to be established here. So, of course, [people of Bahram Chah] are involved [in this attack]. But we are still investigating [exactly who took part]."

Helmand Province has been the scene of other drug-related violence during the past two years. Opium growers angry about the central government's attempts to eradicate their crops have attacked security forces there on several occasions.

The 10 October attack comes amid a reinvigorated insurgency by Taliban fighters across much of southern and eastern Afghanistan that has left more than 1,300 people dead during the last six months. Many of the dead have been suspected Taliban fighters killed by U.S. airstrikes.

Some Afghan officials have said September's parliamentary elections marked the final defeat of the Taliban. But violence has continued. In the past two weeks, there have been five suicide bombings by suspected Taliban fighters, four of them in the south. (See also, "Journalist Talks To RFE/RL About Suicide Bombing.")

Those attacks mark an apparent change in tactics by Afghan insurgents, who had rarely carried out such attacks before the parliamentary election campaign.

(RFE/RL Afghan Service correspondents Jawed Ahmad Wafa in Kandahar and Ahmad Takal in Prague contributed to this report.)

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