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Sitara Achakzai, Female Afghan Politician, Gunned Down By Taliban For Women's Rights Work

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - A female provincial official known for fighting for women's rights was gunned down in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, following a day of fighting in the region that left 22 militants dead, officials said.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmedi, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Gunmen killed Sitara Achakzai outside her home in Kandahar city and then drove off, said Matiullah Khan Qateh, police chief of Kandahar province. He said the four men drove up on two motorcycles and shot Achakzai as she was getting out of her car.

Achakzai, a dual German-Afghan citizen, spent the years of Taliban rule in Germany and returned to her native country to fight for women's rights, said Shahida Bibi, a member of the Kandahar women's association who worked with Achakzai.

A member of Kandahar's provincial council, Achakzai was vocal in encouraging women to take jobs and encouraging them to fight for equal rights, Bibi said.

The day before in neighbouring Zabul province, Afghan soldiers and police killed 22 militants in a nighttime gunbattle, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. The ministry said an Afghan army convoy had came under attack and police came to its aid.

The U.S. military separately reported that Afghan and coalition forces killed four militants Saturday in the same area - the Shinkay district of Zabul province. It was not immediately clear if the reports referred to the same incident.

The U.S. said the joint forces were attacked Saturday by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades while patrolling in Shinkay. They fired back and called in close-air support, a U.S. statement said.

Provincial police Chief Abdul Rahman Furjung said four bodies had been brought to the district police station but locals reported finding many more dead in the area. He also said 22 militants died.

Neither Furjung nor the U.S. military reported any civilian casualties, and the U.S. said no Afghan army or coalition troops were wounded.

Also Saturday, a suicide bomber was killed in southern Helmand province when he tried to enter a police station, the Interior Ministry said. Police shot the would-be bomber and his explosives detonated before he could enter the compound. The attacker was the only person killed, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, NATO forces reported that they killed 18 insurgents Friday in a strike against insurgents in Kunar province.