Taliban fighters shot dead at least 12 workers clearing land mines Saturday in southern Afghanistan, authorities said, part of a series of attacks over the last 24 hours that saw seven Afghan and two U.S. soldiers killed, as well as a Supreme Court official.
The attack targeting the mine-clearing project struck southern Helmand province between its Nadali and Washir districts, police spokesman Farid Ahmad Obaid said. Taliban fighters killed at least 12 workers there and wounded another 12 before Afghan soldiers engaged in a gun battle with the assailants, he added.
Obaid identified the company leading the project as Star Link. A company employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the number of dead could be higher.
Mohammad Din, a Star Link manager, said separately that 81 workers were at the site when the gunmen launched their attack.
Afghanistan, which has suffered decades of continuous war, is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. The nonprofit Halo Trust estimates some 640,000 land mines have been laid there since 1979 and at least 20,500 people have been killed or wounded by such ordinance since.
Also on Saturday, a Taliban suicide bomber targeted a bus carrying Afghan soldiers, killing seven and wounding 18, according to Maj. Gen. Afzal Aman, chief of operations at Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry.
Earlier, gunmen shot dead senior Supreme Court official Atiqullah Raoufi as he left his home in Kabul.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, but did not say why it had killed him. The insurgents, ousted from power by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, run their own courts in parts of the country and consider the official judiciary to be corrupt.
In a separate development late Friday, an attack on a military convoy killed two U.S. soldiers by the Bagram air base in Parwan province near Kabul, an international military official told The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the information wasn't authorized for release.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement that two service members "died as a result of an enemy forces attack in eastern Afghanistan."
The deaths were the first foreign troops killed this month, bringing to 65 the total number of international troops killed in the country this year, 50 of them Americans.
Afghanistan has experienced a sharp spike in violence since President Ghani took office in September. The attacks have mainly been concentrated in Kabul and aimed mostly at government, military and foreign targets.
A teenage Taliban bomber on Thursday targeted a French-run high school auditorium packed with people watching a play, killing one German national and wounding 16 people. The bombing was a rare strike on a civilian target.
Al Jazeera and wire services