KABUL, Afghanistan — Gunmen kidnapped five Health Ministry employees in Afghanistan's volatile Kandahar province while insurgents killed a district official elsewhere, reportedly on the orders of the Taliban supreme leader, officials said Thursday.
Insurgent bombings, gunbattles, assassinations and abductions have been increasing this year as thousands of American troops partnered with Afghan forces fan out in the militants' southern strongholds to try to wrest back control and establish effective local government.
Members of a medical team were abducted Wednesday afternoon while returning to Kandahar city, the provincial capital, after visiting a project in Maiwand district, provincial spokesman Zulmi Ayubi said Thursday.
The gunmen forced the car to stop about a mile (two kilometers) outside Maiwand and abducted two doctors, a pharmacist, a nurse and their driver, Ayubi said. The Health Ministry issued a statement calling for their release.
The kidnappers were not identified, but Taliban insurgents have been on spree of assassinations and abductions of government workers. The campaign of fear is especially intense in Kandahar, where Afghan and international forces have been increasing their presence, with the apparent message that the militants can still operate in their traditional stronghold.
Kandahar is the spiritual birthplaces of the Taliban, who follow an extreme form of Islam that they imposed on Afghanistan during their five years in power before their regime was toppled by U.S.-backed forces for sheltering al-Qaida terrorist leaders.
In neighboring Uruzgan province, insurgents manning a makeshift checkpoint pulled a district leader out of his vehicle and shot him dead in the road on Tuesday, according to Gulab Khan, the provincial deputy police chief.
Saleh Mohammad was a member of a local tribal council in Khas Uruzgan district, an area where U.S. forces are working with local government.
A U.S. special forces officer was quoted in a NATO statement as saying the local leader was on a list of Afghan officials that Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the main Afghan Taliban faction, sent to his followers with orders to kill them.
Mullah Omar, who headed the Taliban's former government, is in hiding, possibly around the Pakistani city of Quetta.
Also in Uruzgan, police said they had killed a local Taliban commander, identified as Mullah Dawood, in a gunbattle.
A routine police patrol discovered the insurgents in a village in Tarin Kot district and started fighting, according to Gulab Khan, the deputy police chief. He said five insurgents, including the commander and a bomb-maker, died and the police suffered no casualties.
Taliban spokesmen could not be reached for comment.
Building up Afghan police and army into a reliable security force is one of the lynchpins of the new counterinsurgency policy for the war, which calls for an increase in international troops to secure areas and then turn them over to local authorities, eventually allowing foreign troops to withdraw without the Taliban seizing power again.