A local official said the bodyguards were killed late on Saturday when gunmen in two cars, travelling from the provincial capital Lashkargah to Sangin 490km southwest of Kabul, opened fire.

One of the attackers’ cars was later found broken down and abandoned in Sangin district by government forces hunting for the gunmen.

Two Afghans working for the non-governmental organisation  Voluntary Association for the Rehabilitation of Afghanistan (VARA) were killed in an attack on Wednesday near Gereshk, which is on the road between Lashkargah and Sangin.

Southern and eastern Afghanistan have been hard hit in a surge of violence, blamed on resurgent Taliban forces who were ousted nearly two years ago by a US-led war. The Taliban are now allegedly re-grouping in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal areas.