REPORTING FROM KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban gunmen ambushed and shot dead a local government official in Kandahar, underscoring the climate of fear that persists in Afghanistan’s main southern city amid a continuing insurgent campaign of assassinations.
Over the past two years, the Taliban and other militant groups have systematically targeted local officials and tribal elders they see as supporters of the central government. The assassinations have taken place across the country, but Kandahar has been the hardest hit.
President Hamid Karzai’s office Sunday condemned the killing of Abdul Baqi Raghbat, a former provincial minister of border and tribal affairs who had been working as an advisor to the current minister.
Raghbat was shot Saturday night and died en route to the hospital, provincial officials said. Karzai’s office called the attack the work of “enemies of the people” -- the usual term for insurgents. The Taliban issued a statement claiming responsibility.
Western commanders have declared what they describe as a tactical victory in Kandahar province, after driving insurgents from key strongholds during fierce fighting in 2010. But they have also described those gains as reversible, and many city residents say they still feel unsafe.
Although securing the south was the main objective during a “surge” that pushed American troop strength above 100,000 last year, commanders have said they expect Afghanistan’s east, near the Pakistan border, to be the main military focus in coming months, even as the U.S. drawdown gathers pace.
In Khost province, which borders Pakistan’s tribal areas, an attacker Sunday hurled a hand grenade at a police truck in a crowded market in the provincial capital. He missed, but the explosion injured 19 shoppers and passers-by, provincial officials said.
Khost, together with the neighboring provinces of Paktia and Paktika, is a traditional stronghold of the Haqqani network, an insurgent group based in Pakistan. Western officials have pressed the Pakistani government to strike at the group’s sanctuaries inside Pakistan, but relations between Washington and the Islamabad government have been extremely tense since 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed last month in a series of U.S. airstrikes.
Results of an investigation into the incident are expected as soon as this week, but U.S. officials have already said the airstrikes came after coalition troops in Afghanistan were fired on from across the border. Some Pakistani officials have called the U.S. attack a deliberate act of hostility.
Photo: Afghan National Army cadets at a graduation ceremony on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif. Credit: Qais Usyan / AFP / Getty Images