Kabul - An Afghan district governor and former senator has defected to the Taliban in northern Afghanistan, an official said on Thursday, the highest-ranking defection to the insurgents.
"Qazi Abdul Hai, a former senator, who was recently working as Kohistanat district governor, disappeared on Tuesday and is believed to have joined Taliban in the district," said Abdul Jabbar Haqbin, governor of Sar-e-Pul province.
Hai served as senator from 2004 to 2008 and was then appointed as the governor of his home district.
Haqbin told dpa that Hai was about to be sacked when he quit his job and joined the insurgents.
A Taliban spokesperson welcomed the defection, saying Hai was a "great jihad commander".
"This is a big achievement for the mujahideen," said spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid.
In the north-eastern province of Badakhshan, Taliban killed 10 Afghan policemen and captured 16 others in an ambush on Wednesday.
"A police convoy was ambushed by the Taliban in Wardooj district as they were going to a remote area for a clearance operation," a local official said on condition of anonymity.
Taliban claimed responsibility for the ambush, saying 24 policemen were killed, 30 injured and 12 others were captured.
Mujahid told dpa that Taliban fighters also seized 15 police vehicles and one tank.
Meanwhile, 40 Taliban militants were killed in a government offensive to clear the rebels from a district in the southern province of Helmand, the governor's office said.
"In a three-day operation all those areas under the control of insurgents were completely cleared in the district on Wednesday and 40 insurgents were killed," it said in a statement.
Afghan forces were erecting security checkpoints in the cleared areas, the statement said.
The Taliban were not immediately available to comment.