KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A string of coordinated Taliban attacks on police checkpoints in the increasingly volatile southern Afghan province of Helmand killed at least 12 policemen, an official said Monday.
Also, seven police officers were wounded in the attacks and seven others were missing, presumably abducted by the Taliban. The attacks, which took place in the province's Gereshk district, were launched Sunday night and lasted for many hours, said Hismatullah Daulatzai, head of police for the greater Helmand zone.
The 15-year insurgency in Afghanistan has intensified across the south as the Taliban concentrate their war on Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces. Many of the attacks target police checkpoints, with Taliban fighters stealing weapons, ammunition and vehicles — and often abducting Afghan forces. On Saturday, Taliban fighters killed at least four policemen in Helmand's Nahri Sarraj district in similar attacks.
The fight in the southern, opium poppy-producing region is led by Mullah Yaqoub, the son of the one-eyed founder and late leaders of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
Mullah Omar's successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, was killed in a U.S. drone strike this month — almost a year after officially taking over when the death of his predecessor was revealed. After Mansour's death, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, a conservative cleric with no battlefield experience and a deputy to Mansour, was named to lead the group.
As the summer fighting season progresses, military officials are expecting the violence to escalate with Akhundzada's need to consolidate power. Yaqoub and the head of the brutal Haqqani network, Sirajuddin Haqqani, were named as deputies to Akhundzada.
Rivalries have also become entrenched, with the main dissident group that broke away to protest Mansour's leadership — and which is now led by Mullah Mohammad Rasool — has vowed not to reconcile with the Taliban.