KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban insurgents have reportedly captured or killed large numbers of Afghan government forces in the remote and usually quiet northeastern corner of the country for the second time this year, officials said Thursday.
According to Dawlat Mohammad, the governor of Warduj District, insurgents ambushed a police convoy in the district on Wednesday, killing 10 policemen and taking 16 others prisoner.
A text message sent to journalists from a Taliban official claimed that the insurgents had killed 25 policemen and taken 12 prisoner.
But Thursday the spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, Sediq Seddiqi, disputed both the insurgents’ claims and those of the Warduj governor, saying no police officers had been captured.
The disputed reports were symptomatic both of an increasing casualty rate among Afghan forces and growing government sensitivity about such information. Last year, Afghan officials reported that Afghan National Army soldiers were being killed at the rate of more than three a day, while deaths of police officers were about six a day, twice as high.
(By comparison, coalition casualties have never reached two a day and are now fewer than one a day).
While hard figures are scarce this year, a number of public comments have suggested a significant increase in casualties on the government side.
This month the newspaper The Guardian quoted Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the U.S. military commander, as saying that Afghan forces were losing 100 killed a week. “I’m not assuming that those casualties are sustainable,” Dunford was reported to have said.
If that trend continued, it would represent a substantial increase over last year’s reported 2,970 deaths for Afghan security forces, including both police officers and soldiers.
On July 22, the interior minister, Gen. Ghulam Mujtaba Patang, addressing Parliament during impeachment proceedings against him, defended himself by saying he had been preoccupied with the rising death toll. “From March 21 up to now, I swear to God, 2,748 police have been martyred,” he said.
Afghan government officials later disputed Dunford’s figures, and Patang’s office issued a clarification saying his number referred to wounded as well as dead.
Seddiqi said Thursday that casualty figures had not yet been compiled nationwide so he was not able to give numbers. “I can say there has been a slight increase in the number of casualties,” he said.