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Taliban Kidnap 16 People In Afghanistan's North

MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- Taliban insurgents have abducted 16 people in two separate incidents in northern Afghanistan, a region that has been long seen as relatively safe, officials said.

Ousted from power in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001 but still strong in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban have become increasingly active in the once-peaceful north as they continue to battle coalition forces in the country.

In one incident, Taliban fighters stormed a clinic in the rugged Sar-i-Pul Province, seizing eight health workers including women, said Bilal Nairam, a senior provincial police officer.

He said a search was under way to find those kidnapped in the province which has so far escaped the spread of the Taliban insurgency.

He said he did not know the motive behind the abduction.

In the second kidnapping which also occurred overnight in the neighboring Faryab Province, Taliban fighters staged an attack on a police post and took away eight police officers, the provincial police chief, Khalil Andarabi, said.

The Taliban could not be reached for comment.

Taliban fighters often stage kidnappings as part of their campaign against coalition forces but abductions have also become a lucrative business for criminal gangs and rival tribes in recent years.

This year has seen a dramatic rise of violence in Afghanistan where 100,000 Western troops, two-thirds of them American, are fighting to contain an increasingly fierce insurgency.