The police were ambushed late on Tuesday as they were driving in the mountains of Helmand province's Dishu district, said Ghulam Muhiddin, the provincial administrator.

A purported spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Mohammed Yousaf, said fighters beheaded the men after the battle, but this could not be confirmed.

Yousaf spoke to The Associated Press by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location. His exact tie to the Taliban leadership is not clear.

Police in Helmand and other southern provinces have been hit hard in recent weeks by a series of attacks.

Violence across the region in the past year has killed almost 1500 people.