Attacks across Afghanistan, involving hundreds of Taliban fighters swarming police checkpoints across the south, killed at least 30 people Saturday, officials said, as a recount in the country's presidential election was halted before a major holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The attacks mainly targeted Kandahar province, where Taliban fighters killed six police officers in assaults on some 15 checkpoints, said a spokesman for the provincial governor. Reinforcements later arrived to combat the Taliban fighters, the spokesman added, as the combat continued into Saturday night.
In Helmand province, a bomb hidden inside a motorcycle killed four civilians and wounded four others in Marjah district, according to a spokesman for the governor of Helmand. In Kabul, a bomb blast killed an army officer and wounded his driver, police officials said. In Herat province, a security official confirmed that gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed two army officers in the city of Herat.
In a blow to hoped-for peace talks, the Taliban's reclusive leader warned Friday that a bilateral security pact allowing thousands of U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year will mean more fighting. Mullah Mohammad Omar called on both Afghan presidential candidates not to sign the agreement.
"We believe the war in Afghanistan will come to an end when all foreign invaders pull out of Afghanistan and a holy Islamic and independent regime prevails here," said Mullah Oman ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. "Presence of limited number of troops under whatever title it may be will mean continuation of occupation and the war."
In a separate development on Friday, gunmen intercepted two minibuses traveling through central Afghanistan and killed at least 14 passengers overnight.
Though the claim could not be independently verified, local officials in the remote, mountainous province of Ghor said most of the passengers were Hazaras, an ethnic minority Shia Muslim group in Afghanistan that has long been persecuted by the Pashtun Sunni majority.
"The insurgents stopped two vans and after checking peoples' identifications cards, they separated 14 passengers from 32 others and shot them dead," said provincial governor Sayed Anwar Rahmati.
At least three women and a 3-year-old child were among those killed. Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, accused Taliban insurgents of carrying out the attack, saying it was "aimed at instilling fear in the people."
The Taliban denied involvement.
In Kabul, meanwhile, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission stopped a recount in the runoff presidential election. Commission chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani told reporters that the recount will resume later next week after Eid al-Fitr.
Unofficial and disputed preliminary results of the June 14 runoff election showed former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai well ahead of his rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
But since fraud was alleged on both sides, a deal negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry provides that every one of the 8 million ballots will be audited under national and international supervision over three or four weeks.
Al Jazeera and wire services