Kabul - Taliban gunmen have killed eight Afghan guards working at the largest American base in Afghanistan, officials said Tuesday, as the US appears set to boost its troop presence in the country.

The guards were ambushed near Bagram base north of Kabul as they were driving home in a convoy late Monday, said district governor Abdul Shakoor Quddusi.

“They were all local residents serving as guards at Bagram,” he said, adding that two other guards were wounded.

“In the past, there were attacks on Bagram air base’s Afghan employees individually, but this is the first time that armed forces target them in a group,” said Quddusi.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which came as the insurgents intensify their nationwide spring offensive against Western and government targets.

“I offer our deepest condolences to the families, and friends of these brave Afghan citizens,” Brigadier General Patrick Donahoe, US commander of Bagram Airfield, said in a statement.

“We will always remember the sacrifice of these determined men and are forever grateful for their service.”

Washington is soon expected to announce an increase in the US military deployment to bolster Afghan forces, who are struggling to contain the insurgency. American military commanders in Afghanistan have requested thousands of extra boots on the ground.

US troops in Afghanistan now number about 8,400, and there are another 5,000 from NATO allies, a far cry from the US presence of more than 100,000 six years ago. They mainly serve as trainers and advisers. Bagram, around 50 kilometres north of Kabul, houses the largest contingent of US soldiers in the country.

The assault comes after seven American soldiers were wounded Saturday when an Afghan soldier opened fire at them inside a northern military base, the second “insider” attack in a week.

Analysts say such attacks are expected to increase this year as US troops engage with the Afghan military to double the size of its special forces, considered to be effective in the fight against insurgents. The Afghan conflict is the longest in American history, with US-led forces at war since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.

PROTESTER KILLED NEAR KABUL BOMBING SITE

Kabul authorities Tuesday demolished a sit-in camp erected to protest spiralling insecurity, triggering street clashes that left at least one demonstrator dead in the latest bout of violence to shake the city.

Tensions have been high in Kabul since a truck bomb on May 31 killed more than 150 people and wounded hundreds in the fortified diplomatic quarter, the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since 2001.

People enraged by rising insecurity had established a protest tent near the bombing site, demanding the resignation of President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Authorities moved in unannounced after midnight Tuesday to mow down the tent, prompting a backlash from protesters as police responded with live rounds.

“In this unfortunate incident ... one person was killed and six wounded,” said Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, pledging an investigation. “These kinds of incidents damage the trust between the government and the people.”

But protest organisers claimed two demonstrators were killed and 12 were detained by authorities. “We assure the people that despite this barbaric attack by the government and this grave crime against humanity we will continue our civil movement,” the organisers said in a statement.

The latest violence comes after four people were killed when protesters clashed with police in days after the truck bombing, prompting officials to beat them back with live rounds fired into the air, tear gas and water cannon.

Protesters had set up at least six sit-in camps around Kabul after those clashes. They took down most of them after an agreement with the government, but had refused to leave the tent near the bombing site despite insurgent threats looming over the city.

Much of Kabul is effectively on lockdown, with many streets blocked with shipping containers and armoured vehicles, but that had not stopped dozens from joining the sit-ins.

Any violent showdown between authorities and protesters could spiral into chaos, a threat that has prompted government allies including former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to call for peace.