- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A roadside bomb killed two Afghan police officers as they were destroying opium poppies in the southern province of Kandahar on Tuesday while NATO said insurgents had killed three children during a coalition operation against a Taliban leader in the north.

The coalition said in a statement that another four women and children were wounded along with five Afghan and NATO troops in the fighting in northern Faryab province.

It said the deaths occurred when an insurgent lobbed a hand grenade into a courtyard of a compound that was being raided. The women and children had been placed there by coalition forces for their safety. The statement added that “several” insurgents were also killed.

“This is yet another example of insurgents willfully murdering Afghan civilians,” said Rear Adm. Hal Pittman, the coalition’s deputy chief of staff for communication.

The two police officers who died Tuesday were part of a team eradicating opium poppies in Kandahar’s Zhari district, according to a police statement. Two other officers were wounded in the blast.

The spring poppy harvest is slowly coming to full bloom across southern Afghanistan. Police said that Afghan security forces have so far eradicated almost 2,900 acres (1,200 hectares).

Opium poppies are the south’s biggest cash crop, often smuggled to Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas where the sap from the plants is refined into heroin for sale in Western markets and Russia. Funds are used to fuel the Taliban and the fighting season is expected to get fully under way once the crop is harvested.

In other developments, the Afghan Intelligence Agency said a Pakistani man has been arrested on suspicion of leading a botched assault on a NATO base last week that left seven insurgents dead.

A spokesman for the agency, Lutfullah Mashal, said the 26-year-old man named Zarmalok was from the Pakistani city of Peshawar. It is common in both countries for people to go by a single name.

Mashal said the man sneaked into Afghanistan a day before the April 5 attack on NATO’s base in the eastern city of Jalalabad. He met another 11 men in Jalalabad and they tried to storm the base firing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Seven of the attackers were killed. There were no coalition casualties.

Zarmalok escaped and was captured, the agency spokesman said. It is unclear what happened to the remaining four insurgents and Mashal did not mention them.

Mashal released no other details on the circumstances of the arrest, but did say that Zarmalok was also trained in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, a lawless tribal area that borders Afghanistan.

He also announced the arrest of a Taliban operative in Helmand that is though responsible for a number of beheadings in the southwestern province. Identified as Mullah Juma, the man was part of a five-member Taliban judicial committee that regularly put on trial Afghans working for the government, the army or coalition forces. Many were then beheaded, Mashal said. He did not say how many people Mullah Juma was suspected of killing.

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Patrick Quinn in Kabul and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.