HEART  -  At least 18 soldiers were killed in Taliban raids on two military posts in western Afghanistan, officials said Sunday, as militants step up attacks ahead of parliamentary elections.

Poll-related violence killed or wounded dozens of civilians on Saturday, a week before voters cast their ballots across the war-torn country. Another 15 soldiers were captured and five wounded during the overnight attacks involving “a large number of Taliban” in Pusht-a-Rud district of Farah province, provincial council chief Farid Bakhtawar told AFP.

Defence ministry spokesman Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed said reinforcements had been sent to the area.

“The Taliban have also suffered huge losses,” Jawed added.

The militants seized weapons and armoured vehicles during the assault, provincial council member Dadullah Qaneh said.

Violence has escalated in the months leading up to the October 20 parliamentary election, with hundreds killed or wounded.

On Saturday, a motorcycle carrying explosives detonated among supporters of Nazifa Yousefibek, a female candidate for the northeastern province of Takhar, killing 22 and wounding 36 - mostly civilians.

And in the western province of Herat, two gunmen attacked the campaign office of a candidate in Injeel district, killing two people, provincial governor spokesman Jailani Farhad said.

Meanwhile, the death toll in a bomb attack on an Afghan election rally has risen to at least 22 people, officials said Sunday, as the country braces for more violence ahead of the October 20 poll.

DISTRICT POLICE CHIEF KILLED

At least eight Afghan police personnel, including a district police chief, were killed in clashes in southern province of Zabul overnight, a provincial source said Sunday.

In one incident, police chief of Mizan district Asad Khan was killed during clashes following a Taliban attack on district’s government offices and surrounding security checkpoints late Saturday night, the source said anonymously.

In neighboring Shahr-i-Safa locality, seven police officers were killed in a similar incident as they repulsed a Taliban attack on police security checkpoints. Several militants were also killed and injured during the clashes, the source said.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman, has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying three Taliban fighters were wounded in the fighting.

The violence has been on the rise as Afghan security forces struggle against a surge in attacks by militants as the country is preparing for parliamentary elections slated for Oct 20.