Gen. Austin S. Miller, center left, the head of NATO troops in Afghanistan; Gov. Zalmai Wesa of Kandahar, center right; and their delegations at a security conference in Kandahar City on Thursday. General Wesa was among three who died in an attack after their meeting.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — One of the most devastating Taliban assassination strikes of the long Afghan war killed top leaders of Kandahar Province on Thursday, in an attack that missed the top American commander in the country, Gen. Austin S. Miller, just two days before national elections that had already been undermined by violence.
Video: Afghan army boosts security efforts after election attacks | Al Jazeera English
Inside the provincial governors compound in Kandahar City, at least one attacker fatally shot the regions powerful police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq and the provincial intelligence chief. The gunfire wounded the provincial governor, another police commander and three Americans, Afghan officials said.
Pakistan strongly condemns terrorist attack in Kandahar
General Raziq, who had survived dozens of attempts on his life, was widely considered to be an indispensable security chief with influence across critical areas of southern Afghanistan, in the Taliban heartland. He was valued by American commanders as a fierce ally against the insurgents, but human rights advocates criticized him for brutal tactics that at times swept up innocent civilians as well as militants.
Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the incident, saying the people and the security forces of Afghanistan have been paying a heavy price due to continued instability and threats from the enemies of peace.
Powerful Afghan police chief killed in shooting on US security meeting
At 3:30 p.m., after a meeting about the security of elections, when the high-ranking participants were heading to helicopters, an enemy infiltrator opened fire on them, the deputy minister of interior, Gen. Akhtar Mohammad Ibrahimi, said at a news conference. The police chief, General Raziq, and the provincial intelligence chief, General Abdul Momin, were killed.
In a statement, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had specifically been aimed at General Raziq and General Miller. The American military released a statement confirming that General Miller, who was in the compound at the time of the attack, was not hurt, but that three Americans had been wounded.
Early on, there were conflicting reports about whether Gov. Zalmai Wesa and Gen. Nabi Elham, the police commander for the southern zone with responsibility for several provinces, had survived the attack. General Ibrahimi said both are wounded but are under medical operation, though it was not clear how severe their injuries were.
In a brief televised message, President Ashraf Ghani said that he had dispatched his intelligence chief and other senior officials to Kandahar to investigate the situation.
I promise the Afghan people that soon the situation will get normal in Kandahar, Mr. Ghani said.
The delegates had just gathered for a group photo when gunfire broke out inside the provincial governors compound in Kandahar City, according to an AP television cameraman who was present when the shooting began. Everyone scattered, and the U.S. participants scrambled toward their nearby helicopter. But a firefight broke out between the U.S. service members and Afghan police when they tried to stop the U.S. delegation from reaching their helicopter, said the cameraman.
It was not clear if there had been only one gunman, but accounts of the assassination pointed to an insider attack, carried out by a turncoat among the Afghan security personnel there.
Its believed that one of the governors guards opened fire, but it is not yet confirmed, said Agha Lalay Datagiri, the deputy governor of Kandahar.
The election is seen as a rehearsal for the presidential vote scheduled for April and an important milestone ahead of a UN meeting in Geneva in November where Afghanistan is under pressure to show progress on "democratic processes".
Coming ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections on Saturday, the loss of the Kandahar leadership casts a further shadow on a political season already marred by bloodshed. One-third of polling stations will not open because of security, and at least 10 candidates and dozens of their supporters have been killed. The Taliban have threatened to attack polling places.
Another major attack last year inside the Kandahar governors office took a heavy toll on officials, killing a deputy governor, the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, and members of Parliament. The governor at the time survived with burns and wounds. General Raziq had just stepped out of the room.
Taimoor Shah reported from Kandahar, and Mujib Mashal from Kabul. Fatima Faizi and Fahim Abed contributed reporting from Kabul.
The Talibans claim that General Miller was a target could impact peace talks between the group and the US, who met face to face for the first time in Doha this summer. It doesnt exactly set the right tone for ongoing peace discussions which have been seen to be moving in the right direction since the first meetings back in July, said Emily Winterbotham, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a UK-based defence think tank, adding that the claim was provocative.
(CNN)The powerful police chief of Kandahar province in Afghanistan was killed Thursday in an attack following a security meeting with the top US commander in the city, three Afghan officials told CNN.