KABUL, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Six Afghan soldiers and a driver for the U.S.-based aid agency Mercy Corps were killed on Thursday in a raid by suspected guerrillas of the former Taliban regime in the troubled southern province of Helmand, police said.
Mohammad Ayoub, deputy police chief of Helmand province, told Reuters the attack came just before dawn on a remote district headquarters in Deshu, not far from the Pakistani border.
"Six army soldiers and a driver for Mercy Corps lost their lives in the incident, which happened after morning prayers."
He said the soldiers were killed in a gunbattle resisting the raid. He did not know if any of the attackers, whom he described as Taliban guerrillas, had been killed.
Rod Volway, head of the Mercy Corps office in the neighbouring province of Kandahar, said he had received reports that a Mercy Corps employee had been killed but had not been able to confirm them.
He said three Afghan employees of the agency had been in Deshu conducting an assessment for an agricultural project. He said one was safe, one had fled and one was missing.
Volway said that from the reports he had, it appeared the district office, not the aid workers, had been the target.
Mercy Corps has headquarters in the United States and Scotland.
Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces pursuing Taliban guerrillas complain their job is made more difficult by the ability of Taliban and allied guerrillas to seek safety by crossing into the rugged borderlands of Pakistan, the main Taliban supporter until 2001.
Thursday's raid comes about ten days after six Afghan soldiers were killed in an ambush by suspected Taliban guerrillas in another area of Helmand.
It was also close to a district in Kandahar province where five police officers and a police chief were killed in a similar attack earlier in July.
Southern Afghanistan used to be the main heartland of the Taliban until it was toppled by U.S.-led forces in late 2001.
The region has been the scene of repeated attacks this year in which more than 100 government soldiers and civilians have been killed or wounded.
Ayoub said Thursday's attack and many previous ones appeared to have been organised in Pakistan, despite its status nowadays as an ally in the U.S.-led "war on terror".
"And I presume they went back there," he said. "They get the training and preparation in Pakistan."
Pakistan says it does all it can to stop insurgents from slipping into Afghanistan for attacks.
(additional reporting by David Brunnstrom)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet