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KABUL: Afghan authorities have for the first time instructed Kabul's police force to fatally shoot armed criminals on sight, a sharp escalation in tactics aimed at stemming a surge in kidnappings, murders and other violent crimes.

Already stretched to breaking point after years of Taliban and jihadist attacks, the capital's police are now grappling with a crime wave that is only expected to worsen as US and foreign forces pull out of Afghanistan. Officers had until now only been allowed to fire their weapons when in a direct clash with criminals, but interior minister Massoud Andarabi late Sunday shifted to a shoot-to-kill order in a bid to control the escalation, his spokesman said.

"(Andarabi) said criminals should not roam freely in Kabul city, hit them and kill them," Tariq Arian said. Even low-level criminals and thieves in Kabul are often armed with guns or knives.