KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban militants attacked local security checkpoints in a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan, killing two policemen in a fight that also left 18 insurgents dead, Afghan officials said Saturday.
NATO said a coalition service member also died in a militant attack in the south on Saturday, but did not provide further details.
The violence follows NATO's formal handover of security in the entirety of Afghanistan to Kabul's forces — a transition that comes at a time with violence levels matching their worst in nearly 12 years of war.
In northern Afghanistan, Kunduz provincial police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said Saturday that the Taliban attacked multiple checkpoints at about noon Friday in the provincial capital of the same name, killing one member of the Afghan local police, a community-based force, and wounding two.
The Taliban then moved outside the city where a gun battle with Afghan security forces lasted until about midnight, Hussaini said.
Eighteen Taliban fighters and another local policeman were killed in the battle, and another 11 militants were wounded, he said. Hussaini posted on his Facebook page a picture of 11 bodies lined up inside the provincial police compound in Kunduz that he said were those of Taliban militants his troops recovered from the scene of the fight.
The Interior Ministry said the battle outside of the city involved Afghan National Police, and that it was conducted independently "without the involvement of any foreigners."
As Afghan forces have become more involved in security operations they have seen a sharp rise in deaths, while casualties among the U.S.-led military coalition have been reducing as the international forces pull back to let the Afghans take the lead.
According to an Associated Press count, 807 Afghan security force members — including soldiers and police — and 365 civilians have been killed so far this year through the end of May. A total of 63 coalition troops were also killed in that span.
Last year through the end of May, Afghan security forces lost 365 soldiers and police and 338 civilians were killed. Coalition forces lost 177 troops during that time.
In a brazen attack last month for which the Taliban claimed responsibility, four militants using a car bomb, grenade launchers and suicide vests assaulted the Kabul compound of the International Organization for Migration, a U.N-affiliated agency assisting returning Afghan migrants.
The Italian government said one of four aid workers injured in the attack, 40-year-old Italian Barbara De Anna, died in a hospital in Germany on Friday where she was being treated for severe burns.
Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said De Anna "embodied the best of Italy," and that "we pay tribute to those who, like her, work in the most remote and difficult areas of crisis."
Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this story.