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Insurgents killed eight Afghan security officials

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By Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) - Insurgents killed eight Afghan security officials who were kidnapped a day earlier in one of the most dangerous areas in central Afghanistan, a government official said on Saturday, and the Taliban claimed responsibility for the killings.

The five police and three officials from the National Directorate of Security (NDS) were kidnapped in Maidan Wardak, where 38 U.S. and Afghan troops were killed when their helicopter was shot down by a Taliban rocket during a battle a week ago.

The latest incident follows a particularly bloody week in Afghanistan, during which about 50 foreign troops killed.

The helicopter crash was the worst single incident for foreign troops in 10 years of war in Afghanistan, with 30 Americans killed, including 17 elite Navy SEALs.

Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Wardak provincial governor, said the Afghan police and NDS officers were traveling along a highway between the relatively peaceful province of Bamiyan and Maydan Shah in volatile Wardak when they were kidnapped by as yet unidentified gunmen.

"We started a rescue operation in the area but the enemies of peace in Afghanistan had already killed our forces," Shahid said. "Enemies of peace" is a term often used by the Afghan government to describe the Taliban and other insurgents.

Shahid said it appeared the eight security officials had been killed on Friday night. He said three suspected insurgents had been detained in the area where the men were kidnapped but gave no other details.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said fighters from the Islamist group had dropped the eight bodies in the Jalriz district of Wardak but said five of them were soldiers rather than police.

"There were eight people, three members of the spy agency and five from the army," Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"We have no casualties. The people they (police) claim to have arrested might be local people or villagers," he said.

Although only about 80 km (50 miles) southwest of the capital, Kabul, Wardak is one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan, with fighters from the Taliban, the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and other insurgent groups active in the area.

Violence across Afghanistan in 2010 hit its worst levels since the Taliban were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces almost 10 years ago and has shown no signs of abating this year.

U.S. and other NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops have claimed success in halting the momentum of the insurgency over the past year, especially in the Taliban heartland in the south, although insurgents have shown a worrying ability to hit back in other areas.

The latest violence also comes only weeks after ISAF and the Afghan government began the first phase of a gradual process of handing security responsibility to Afghan forces.

That process will end with all foreign combat troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of 2014, although some U.S. lawmakers have begun questioning whether that timetable is too drawn out.

(Writing by Paul Tait, editing by Rosalind Russell)