4 mine sweepers found dead; 3 NATO troops killed in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — At least four of the 28 minesweepers who were abducted four days ago by unknown gunmen in western Afghanistan have been found dead, local officials said Sunday, as a wave of attacks across the country killed three NATO soldiers.

The workers belonged to the United Nations-supported Demining Agency for Afghanistan, a local non-governmental organization based in Kabul and which operates all over the country.

They were kidnapped in Bala Blok, in Farah province, four days ago and taken to unknown locations.

"We have received the body of one person so far who was beheaded, who was buried today by his family", Rohull Ameen, Farah's governor, told McClatchy.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the kidnapping, but Taliban insurgents often target workers affiliated with government or international organizations.

"Our reports say that four other bodies whose faces are not recognizable also have been seen in the district, but our security departments are working to find out if these are the bodies of the mine sweepers", Ameen said.

Ameen blamed Taliban insurgents.

The Taliban militants' spokesmen were not available for comment.

Also on Sunday, three NATO soldiers were killed in the east and south of the country in fresh waves of attacks by insurgents, according to a statement issued from NATO headquarter in Kabul.

But the statement did not give details about the exact whereabouts or the nationalities of the dead soldiers. Mostly American troops are serving in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Also Sunday an explosion in Kandahar killed three people, including two police officers, and wounded six others, according to an Interior Ministry statement.

Farah is a restive province in the west of Afghanistan that shares a border with Iran. The province has witnessed increased Taliban insurgency recently.

Herat, the province next to Farah, is one of the seven candidate provinces in which most security responsibility will be given from U.S.-led NATO to Afghan forces this month as part of security transition process. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the security transition process.

One of the victims was a nephew of Abdul Ghani, 45, a member of the provincial council.

"Yesterday morning the body of my nephew, who was 25 years old, was found and he was beheaded", Ghani said. "The Taliban have done this and there is no reason why they have done this." Ghani said his nephew had worked for the demining agency for only about three months.

There are several national and international organizations involved in the process of removing mines from Afghanistan, one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. Thousands of landmines were left during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-1989.

The Taliban and their al Qaida allies use sophisticated landmines against Afghan and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

(Shukoor is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


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