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70 villagers kidnapped in Afghanistan, at least 7 killed: police

KABUL: Seventy Afghans were abducted Friday from their village along the main highway in the south of the country, and at least seven were killed, police said, accusing the Taliban of the kidnappings.

Around 30 villagers have been released but at least 30 others are still missing, Abdul Raziq, the head of Kandahar provincial police told AFP.

“The Taliban abducted 70 people from their houses in a village along the Kandahar-Tarinkot highway, Friday. They killed seven of them today,” Raziq said. “Their bodies were found by villagers this morning.”

“They released 30 and are still keeping around 30 others,” he said, adding they were “civilian Pashtuns”, the ethnicity of many Taliban fighters.

The highway runs from Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, to Tarinkot, capital of Uruzgan province, a poppy-growing area where the Taliban have a heavy presence.

It is not clear why the villagers were seized. Government officials and security forces are usually the target of such incidents.

Read More: Taliban’s safe havens are inside Afghanistan, not outside: Maleeha Lodhi

Civilians are increasingly caught in the crosshairs of Afghanistan’s worsening conflict as the Taliban step up their annual spring offensive, launched in April against the Western-backed Kabul government.

Highways around Afghanistan passing through insurgency-prone areas have become exceedingly dangerous, with the Taliban and other armed groups frequently kidnapping or killing travellers.

But it is unusual for the Taliban to go into villages to take civilians as hostages. In general they intercept vehicles on the road, checking to see if passengers have links to the government.

In July, Taliban fighters closed a highway connecting Farah to Herat city, stopping a bus and forcing 16 passengers to dismount. They shot at least seven of them, while the remaining nine were taken hostage.

Friday’s incident was confirmed by officials at the Independent Human Rights Commission in Kandahar and Kabul in a statement condemning the kidnappings and executions.

Fighting is underway in several northern and southern provinces in Afghanistan, including Helmand where 16 Afghan police officers were killed by a US airstrike on Friday night — the latest setback to Washington’s efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

The strike hit a compound in Gereshk district, large parts of which are under Taliban control.

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