KABUL, Sept 16: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Kabul in an unannounced visit on Tuesday amid growing doubts that the American strategy in Afghanistan was succeeding against increasingly deadly militancy.

Gates will meet President Hamid Karzai, who has criticised the killing of civilians by foreign troops while hunting Taliban militants, but has backed last week’s announcement that the United States would target ‘militant safe havens’ in Pakistan.

Gates’s visit came after a surprise visit to Baghdad where he handed over command of the war in Iraq to a new general charged with maintaining better security while US troop numbers fall. But in Afghanistan the United States plans to send more troops to combat the Al Qaeda-backed resurgent Taliban.

Afghans have been angered by a spike in civilian deaths in recent months and the country’s Western-backed government has sought a review of foreign combat operations.

Nearly 1,500 Afghan civilians were killed in the first eight months of this year, many in attacks on schools, clinics, bazaars and other crowded areas, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

A bombing in August by the US-led coalition in western Herat province opened a rift between coalition forces on the one hand and the Afghan government and the UN on the other.

Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee this month that “I’m not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan”.

The Pentagon is also worried about signs that Al Qaeda is resurfacing in Afghanistan after losing ground in parts of Iraq.

Meanwhile, some 720 policemen have died in Afghanistan in the past six months, mostly as a result of the Taliban-led insurgency, the interior ministry has said.

This compares to 1,119 police killed over a 12-month period last year, according to the ministry’s spokesman, Zemeri Bashary. “Most of the deaths are due to an increase in terrorist activities,” he said.

On Tuesday, four policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb struck a police vehicle in the eastern province of Khost, a restive region near the Pakistani border, officials said.

In other violence gunmen shot dead an Afghan intelligence agent and his wife and their two sons in their beds early on Tuesday, officials said, blaming the Taliban-linked militants for the murders.

A deputy provincial governor and his police chief escaped a Taliban attack unharmed while security forces said they had killed at least 10 insurgents.

Khas Kunar district deputy intelligence chief Mohammad Sharif and his family were asleep when several militants attacked their home in the eastern province of Kunar near the border with Pakistan, Afghan authorities said.

The official, his school teacher wife and their two sons, aged over 18 years, were killed, district governor Sayed Mahboob told AFP.“This cannot be a personal feud or enmity, this is indeed the work of Taliban,” he said.—Agencies