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Official in Afghanistan says Taliban fighters kidnap 27 police officers in northeast province

KABUL - Taliban fighters kidnapped 27 police officers during an assault on a northeastern province in Afghanistan, authorities said Thursday, part of the extremist group's spring offensive ahead of the withdrawal of foreign troops at the end of this year.

Gen. Fazeluddin Ayar, the police chief in Badakhshan province, said that the 27 officers were hiding in a cave during the Taliban attack Wednesday in Yamgan district. The Taliban took the officers hostage and police have launched an effort to try and find them, Ayar said. Some 50 other officers in the district hiding in the area escaped, Ayar said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a message to journalists. The militants routinely execute security forces they capture.

Insurgents ambushed several police checkpoints in Badakhshan province, killing at least six police officers in Yamgan district, Ayar said Wednesday. The fighting started late Tuesday and lasted into Wednesday.

Reinforcements were sent to the site, but the police were forced to pull back from the area and were fighting the Taliban forces from surrounding mountains as army helicopters flew overhead, Ayar said. Five insurgents also were killed, and three policemen were wounded, he added.

The Taliban said its fighters had raised the movement's white flag above the district headquarters.

Badakhshan province, nestled in the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountain ranges and bordering China, is one of the most remote in the country. The area has seen few attacks from insurgents following the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. A recent landslide in the province killed hundreds in a rural village.

The violence comes as the Taliban has launched its annual spring offensive promising to step up attacks against Afghan security forces in a bid to undermine the Western-backed government as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of the year. The Taliban also have pledged to disrupt voting as Afghans prepare for a second round of presidential elections on June 14. The first round was relatively peaceful, but no candidate won a majority forcing a runoff vote between the top two vote-getters — Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai.

Speaking to journalists Thursday, Interior Minister Mohammad Umar Daudzai said the influx of foreign Taliban fighters appeared to be more than in previous years, but the country would continue its fight.

"These Taliban are trying to sabotage the election, but we are fully prepared by the help of the people and the Taliban cannot do a thing," Daudzai said.

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