ASADABAD - Taliban gunned down three Afghan army soldiers after kidnapping them in eastern Afghanistan, local officials said Friday.

“Taliban insurgents stopped a vehicle of Afghan army soldiers while they were on their way to Ahmad Khil district of Paktia province and later they were shot dead,” Mohammad Zaman, Paktia’s criminal investigation director said.

The bodies of the soldiers, who were off duty and on their way to visit their families on Thursday, were found lying on the road overnight, he said.

Deputy provincial governor Abdul Rahman Mangal confirmed the incident, blaming Taliban insurgents.

The death toll among Afghan troops and police force has risen this year as they take increasing responsibility for security from US-led NATO troops who are due to pull out by the end of 2014. A total of 853 Afghan soldiers and police were killed in the first four months of this year, the latest official figures show. Insurgents kidnapped three Afghan soldiers and another man from a bus in eastern Afghanistan and killed all four, authorities said Friday, in another challenge to the government and its security forces.

Militants stopped the bus as it was travelling in Paktia province’s Ahmad Khil district and forced the four men off the vehicle Thursday, provincial deputy police chief Mohammad Zaman said. Their bullet-ridden bodies were found lying on a road later in the day.