KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – Two policemen were beheaded and their bodies dumped in a desert after being kidnapped from their homes in the heartland of Afghanistan’s opium poppy region, an official said Saturday.

The violence is the latest to hit southern Helmand province since Afghan security forces launched a massive campaign earlier this week to eradicate hundreds of acres of opium poppies, which are used to make heroin.

The two low-ranking policemen were abducted late Friday from their houses on the outskirts of Lashkargah, Helmand’s provincial capital, said Ghulam Muhiddin, the provincial administrator. Their decapitated bodies were discovered outside the city Saturday, he said.

He said it was not clear whether the Taliban or drug gangs were behind the murders or why the two men were targeted. Police launched an investigation but no one had been arrested.

In other violence, meanwhile, a roadside bomb hit a police patrol in Helmand’s Nad Ali district Saturday, killing a policeman and wounding five others, said Abdul Rahman, the provincial police chief.

Also in Helmand, in Sangin district, a roadside bomb killed two Afghan soldiers when it hit their convoy late Thursday, said Gen. Rehmatullah Raufi, an army commander. Four other troops were wounded.

Violence has spiked in recent weeks in Helmand, which produces more than a quarter of the country’s opium.

Taliban rebels have purportedly vowed to defend opium poppy farmers, though there have been no direct attacks on the heavily guarded teams of government workers using tractors to destroy the poppy fields.

Afghanistan is the source of nearly 90 percent of the world’s opium and heroin even though the international community has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into fighting the trade since the hard-line Taliban regime was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Afghanistan’s government has been criticized for not being tough enough on the burgeoning drug trade amid warnings the country is fast becoming a “narco-state.”

Authorities suspect the insurgents get part of their funding from the drug business.

The eradication, part of a U.S. and British-funded initiative, comes two days after the Afghan government and the United Nations warned that they expect cultivation of opium poppies to increase across large swaths of the country this year.

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