JALALABAD, Afghanistan -- Sixteen Afghan policemen were killed and six more wounded in an ambush yesterday morning on the main road that runs from the capital to the southern city of Kandahar.
The ambush took place amid reports of heavy fighting in several places in southern Afghanistan, in particular in Helmand province, where a NATO helicopter crashed Wednesday night, possibly brought down by Taliban fire.
The policemen were driving from Zabul province toward the capital, Kabul, when they came under fire at 9 a.m. at Shah Joy, a district known for robberies and ambushes, which lies on an infiltration route used by insurgents heading to the mountains. Taliban insurgents have frequently carried out attacks in Shah Joy, though improved security had reduced attacks in recent months.
The Afghan policemen fought back and killed 10 militants and wounded more, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
The Afghan Defense Ministry reported killings dozens of Taliban insurgents in more fighting in a new operation in the Sangin district of Helmand province. Several locations were bombed, and the operation was continuing, a statement from the ministry said.
The Taliban said yesterday that its fighters had shot down the helicopter that crashed in Helmand province on Wednesday night, killing seven NATO soldiers on board. In a telephone call yesterday, a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, claimed responsibility for the shooting and said the helicopter went down in the Kajaki district. He said the Taliban used new weapons against the helicopter.
The Taliban have in the past claimed to have acquired new weapons, including anti-aircraft weapons. But on the two occasions when they have shot down helicopters, the U.S. military has said they hit them with nothing more sophisticated than rocket-propelled grenades.
A spokeswoman for the NATO force in Afghanistan said the operation in Helmand was going ahead despite the loss of the helicopter, which had just dropped off 30 to 40 troops for the operation before it went down. Five of the soldiers killed were Americans, and a Canadian and a Briton were also on board, news agencies reported.
"Initial reports are that enemy fire may have brought down the helicopter, although the incident is still being investigated," said Lt. Col. Angela Billings, the spokeswoman.
NATO troops have made a concerted effort to open the route in Helmand up to the Kajaki dam this year to secure the area and allow engineers to move in and repair and upgrade the dam.