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Afghan policemen keep watch at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

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KABUL (Reuters) - Deaths among Afghan local police forces, who bear the brunt of some of the most dangerous fighting against Taliban insurgents have dropped by around a quarter to 295 members since March 21, due to better equipment and training, officials said on Saturday.

Since the start of the Persian New Year on March 21, 295 members of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) have been killed, compared with 403 deaths in the period between March 21 and July 21 last year, Interior Ministry officials told reporters.

"It's down to support, better cooperation, training, better equipment," said Mohammad Salim Ahsas, a senior ministry official.

The period covers the time since former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Akhtar Mansour was killed in a U.S. drone strike on May 21 and replaced by one of his deputies, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.

The figures referred only the ALP, a 30,000-strong force which is counted separately from the main Afghan National Police units. Its members, recruited with the support of local elders, are only supposed to operate close to their home villages.

But any sign of a drop in casualties will be welcome for both Afghan security forces and the NATO-led coalition supporting the government following heavy losses last year when more than 16,000 police and soldiers were killed or wounded.

Afghan police, many left manning static roadside checkpoints, have suffered a disproportionately higher level of casualties than their army counterparts mainly because of poor equipment, training and planning.

ALP units, which have earned a grim reputation after frequent allegations of human rights abuses including intimidation, beating, illegal detentions and child rape, have lagged behind other units in receiving supplies and equipment.

However the officials said that most units were now equipped with uniforms, body armour and helmets.

Separately, officials said there were plans to boost ALP numbers by several thousand but they gave no details.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Louise Heavens)

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