in raids by Taliban

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Taliban insurgents have beheaded 12 civilians and torched some 60 homes in an assault on security forces in the eastern Ghazni province of Afghanistan, officials have said.

The province’s deputy police chief, Asadullah Ensafi, said the Taliban had attacked several villages over the past week in the Arjistan district.

He said that on Thursday night they captured and beheaded 12 family members of local and national police and burned down 60 homes.

He added that the battle was continuing.

Mr Ensafi said the insurgents also detonated a car bomb in front of an encampment where some 40 police were posted.

He said it was not immediately possible to reach the area to ascertain casualties because the insurgents had mined the roads.

Afghan officials said women and children were believed to be among the casualties. There are no Nato troops stationed in the district.

The remote mountain area lies about 60 miles south-west of the capital, Kabul.

Beheadings are rare in Afghanistan, although they occasionally take place as part of the Taliban campaign to intimidate and exact revenge on the families of Afghan troops and security forces.

Over the past week, the Taliban has been attacking several villages in Ghazni’s Arjistan district, Mr Ensafi said, and battles in the area werestill raging.

Yesterday morning, the Taliban detonated a car bomb in front of an encampment where some 40 Afghan policemen were based in Arjistan, killing at least eight policemen, said the province’s deputy governor, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi.

Mr Ahmadi, who also confirmed the beheadings, said that attack and the car bomb brought the overall death toll in the Taliban offensive in Ghazni to 60. The victims included both civilians and policemen, he said.

Mr Ahmadi said Afghan commandos have been airlifted from Kabul to the area to battle the Taliban and prevent the district from falling to the insurgents.

In Kabul, Ghazni lawmaker Nafisa Azimi said the situation in the province remains very dangerous, adding that the Taliban have taken scores of civilians from Arjistan hostage.

Each spring and summer bring an escalation in fighting in Afghanistan with the end of snowy winter weather, which hampers movement.

The melting of the snows also opens up mountain passes, allowing militant forces to move in from neighbouring Pakistan.