Top Provincial Leaders Assassinated Ahead Of Elections In Afghanistan
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Three top officials in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar were killed today - one of the most brazen Taliban attacks in memory. The top American commander, General Scott Miller, was meeting with them at the time. He was unharmed. Three others, including two Americans, were wounded. NPR's Tom Bowman has more.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The attack at the governor's compound took place just two days before provincial elections on Saturday, and analysts predicted it could mean more gains by Taliban forces who've been on the move throughout the country.
SETH JONES: I think it does continue to show that the security situation in Afghanistan is very, very fragile right now.
BOWMAN: Seth Jones is a defense analyst who's made numerous trips to Afghanistan.
JONES: I suspect that some people may be deterred from voting now because of the insecure environment.
BOWMAN: A Kandahar official told the Associated Press the dead included the province's governor, Zalmay Wesa, his security chief, Adulmomin Hassankhail, as well as a police chief, General Abdul Raziq. General Miller took command of U.S. and NATO troops just six weeks ago. The Taliban said he was the target. Miller's spokesman tweeted that Afghan officials were the targets. And the wounded, including an American soldier, a contractor, along with a coalition contractor, were caught in the crossfire. He said all were listed in stable condition. TOLOnews, a local media group, reported that Miller was on his way to his helicopter after the meeting when at least one of the governor's bodyguards opened fire.
Officials say the attacker or attackers were killed. The attack comes a day after the Taliban killed a political candidate in the adjacent Helmand Province, the latest in dozens of targeted attacks. A number of polling stations around the country will not open because of security problems. Kandahar has been relatively calm for years mostly due to the efforts of police chief General Raziq, a brutal enforcer who had a network of informants. He survived numerous Taliban assassination attempts and has also been accused of many human rights abuses, including torture and summary executions. NPR sat down with Raziq three years ago when there was talk he would be sidelined for the alleged abuses. When asked if he thought Americans would stop providing him with ammunition, fuel and equipment, he brushed all that aside.
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ABDUL RAZIQ: (Through interpreter) Are they going to hand over this area back to Taliban? What we are doing in this country is for law enforcement.
BOWMAN: U.S. military officials have tried for years to get Raziq to mend his tough ways but were quick to point out that he was necessary to keep the Taliban away from the American base, Kandahar Airfield. And today General Miller, the U.S. commander, called Raziq a great friend. The good he did for Afghanistan and the Afghan people, Miller said, cannot be undone. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.