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KABUL / KANDAHAR, Aug 17: Using rockets, grenades and heavy machine guns, Taliban and supporters of Gulbaddin Hekmatyar briefly seized a district police headquarters in southeastern Afghanistan, prompting a gunbattle that killed 15 fighters and seven Afghan policemen, a police chief said on Sunday.

The siege began shortly before midnight Saturday when about 400 guerillas attacked the police headquarters in the town of Barmal in Paktika province, about 200km southeast of Kabul, said provincial governor Mohammed Ali Jalali.

The fighters took over the office and held it until 5am on Sunday before destroying the building and retreating amid a gunbattle with police, said police chief Daulat Khan.

Jalali said that more than 20 insurgents and seven police were killed. But Khan said that 15 fighters died. The men said that the insurgents took the bodies with them when they fled across the border to Pakistan.

Jalali said the insurgents included Taliban and fighters loyal to warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister who heads Hezb-i-Islami, a faction which has called for attacks against foreigners in Afghanistan.

SECURITY RESHUFFLE: Afghanistan’s government has appointed three new provincial army and security chiefs in a bid to tackle an upsurge in violence, officials and reports said on Sunday.

New Kandahar governor Mohammad Yusuf Pashtun on Sunday introduced his new security commander, Mohammad Hashim, who faces the task of countering an increase in attacks by suspected Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan.

Mr Hashim, who is from southeast Ghazni province, has worked in 10 other provinces and is related to Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali who is rebuilding the national police force.

Departing security commander General Mohammad Akram, who has yet to be appointed to a new post, said he would cooperate with his successor.

Mr Pashtun, who was appointed governor on Wednesday to replace anti-Taliban warlord Mr Gul Agha, told reporters he would on Monday also name a new army commander for the Spin Boldak district bordering Pakistan.

Mr Pashtun said the new appointment was due to security problems in Spin Boldak. US troops last month killed 24 suspected Taliban in a failed ambush by militants in the district.

Mr Agha will take up Mr Pashtun’s former job as urban development minister in Kabul.

The National Security Council also appointed General Baz Mohammad Ahmadi as commander of number four corps in western Herat province, the official Bakhtar news agency said.—AP/AFP