The Taliban has poisoned and captured at least 12 policemen as they broke their fast during the Muslim month of Ramadan in southern Afghanistan.

The attack occurred on Thursday in Zabul province, where the Taliban fighters are believed to have a strong presence despite numerous operations by Afghanistan's government security forces.

"Tragically, 12 policemen were poisoned and then taken away in a mini-van after breaking their fast yesterday evening in Shahjoy district of Zabul," Shah Nazanin, the district police chief, told AFP news agency.

"The incident happened at a police check post. It was the work of Taliban insurgents and probably one of their infiltrators was behind this attack," Nazanin added.

The Taliban later claimed responsibility.

Spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said Taliban fighters attacked the check post with the help of infiltrators and captured the policemen.

He said in a statement that they would be punished under Islamic law over complaints from residents that police allegedly tortured people.

Government forces have formally taken responsibility for security from US-led NATO troops due to leave the country next year. But there are concerns about their ability to stand against the Taliban unaided.

Afghanistan's 350,000-strong security forces are suffering a steep rise in attacks as the NATO combat mission winds down.

Source: Agencies