Nine Afghan policemen killed in Afghanistan

Nine Afghan policemen killed in Afghanistan

MAZAR-I-SHARIF, Afghanistan (AFP) - A roadside bomb killed nine policemen and wounded four others outside their checkpoint in northern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday, in the latest casualties ahead of the spring fighting season.

The bomb exploded Saturday when police entered a Taliban stronghold they had retaken in Chimtal district in Balkh province following an operation led by the powerful provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the explosion, but it comes amid rising insecurity in Afghanistan. The Taliban are soon expected to announce their annual spring offensive.

"Nine local policemen were martyred and four others sustained injuries in an IED explosion in Chimtal district," local police spokesman Shir Jan Durrani told AFP.

"All the victims were taken to the hospital in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif," Durrani said.

Noor Mohammad Faiz, head of the civilian hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif, confirmed the casualties.

The country is bracing for an intense fighting season in the spring after the failure of repeated government attempts to launch peace negotiations with the Taliban.

Afghan forces, already beset by record casualties, desertions and non-existent "ghost soldiers" on the payroll, have been struggling to beat back the insurgents since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014.

Afghanistan last year also saw the highest recorded civilian casualties caused by pressure-plate IEDs in a single year, the United Nations said in its annual report in February.