The slain official was identified as Massoud Khan, whose district, Khanishin, has traditionally been a major poppy-producing area in Helmand province, which is itself the epicenter of the country's lucrative drug trade. He was killed returning home from a meeting in a neighboring district to coordinate counter-narcotics strategy with tribal elders, officials said.
A provincial spokesman, Daoud Ahmadi, said that in addition to the three who were killed, three others in Khan's entourage were injured, two Afghan policemen and an Afghan intelligence agent.
Although the Taliban movement has suffered military setbacks in Helmand and in neighboring Kandahar province, its fighters have demonstrated the continuing ability to carry out assassinations of local officials and tribal elders who cooperate with the Afghan government. The bulk of such targeted killings have taken place in southern Afghanistan.
Afghan and international counter-narcotics officials have expressed concern that drug trafficking, a major source of income for the insurgency, will rise sharply as the international troop presence in the country diminishes. The NATO force is looking to wind down its combat mission in 2014, with Afghan troops gradually assuming security responsibilities between now and then.
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-- Laura King