A rogue Afghan policeman drugged and then shot dead 10 of his colleagues in the country's volatile south early Tuesday, officials said, the second insider attack on police in just over a week.
The Taliban infiltrator then stole their weapons and fled their police outpost in the Chinarto district of Uruzgan province, authorities said, triggering a manhunt.
The attack, which took place just after midnight, is part of the Taliban's unprecedented winter campaign of nationwide violence despite a renewed international push to restart formal peace talks.
"Our investigation shows that this policeman collaborated with the Taliban, drugged his colleagues and killed them when they were unconscious," Dost Mohammad Nayab, the spokesman for Uruzgan's governor, told AFP.
Deputy provincial police chief Rahimullah Khan confirmed the account and said an operation was launched to track down the killer.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, giving a different account, said nine policemen were killed after armed men captured the police outpost in Chinarto. "Our mujahedeen seized several weapons, including AK-47s, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades," he said.
On Jan. 17 nine Afghan policemen were shot dead in Uruzgan by four rogue colleagues said to be Taliban infiltrators.
Insider attacks — in which Afghan soldiers or police turn their guns on their colleagues or on international troops — have been a major problem since the U.S.-led coalition's ouster of the Taliban in 2001. The Afghan military, built from scratch since then, has struggled with insider attacks, high casualty rates and mass desertions. Stretched on multiple fronts as the insurgency expands, Afghan forces have largely fought the ascendant Taliban on their own since NATO's combat mission formally ended in December 2014.
In recent months the Taliban briefly captured the northern city of Kunduz, the first urban center to fall to them in 14 years of war, and have seized territory in the opium-growing southern province of Helmand.
The uptick in violence comes amid renewed international efforts to revive peace talks with the Taliban, which are locked in a contest for supporters with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
Delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States convened in the Afghan capital, Kabul, last week for a one-day meeting seeking a negotiated end to the 14-year Taliban insurgency. The first round of the road map talks was held in Islamabad, Pakistan, earlier this month as the four nations try to lay the groundwork for direct dialogue between Kabul and the Taliban.
Taliban representatives were notably absent in both rounds, and analysts caution that any substantive talks are still a long way off.
The Taliban have stepped up attacks on government and foreign targets in Afghanistan this winter, when fighting usually abates, underscoring a worsening security situation.
Observers say the intensifying insurgency is a push by the Taliban to seize territory in an attempt to wrangle greater concessions when the talks formally start.