Afghan governor killed in bombing

Karzai friend is highest official targeted by Taliban

September 11, 2006|By New York Times News Service

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A provincial governor and close friend of President Hamid Karzai was killed along with two staff members by a suicide bomber as they drove away from the governor's office yesterday, government officials said.

The governor, Muhammad Hakim Taniwal of Paktia province, southeast of the capital, is the highest-ranking official to be killed since the Taliban began a campaign of suicide bombings last year, especially singling out senior government officials. At least two other governors and the chairman of the upper house of parliament have narrowly escaped death in similar attacks.

The bombings have come at a furious rate this year, with 47 so far, including the suicide attack that killed 14 Afghan civilians and two U.S. soldiers in the capital Friday. They have unnerved the public and Karzai's government, raising fears of an Iraq-style escalation of violence in large cities.

The assassination came as heavy fighting continued in southern Afghanistan, where NATO and Afghan forces have been battling wave after wave of Taliban fighters in an attempt to drive them out of two districts just west of Kandahar, the main city in the south. At the same time, military leaders of NATO countries concluded a meeting in Warsaw, Poland, without any firm commitments to answer the NATO command's call for 2,000 to 2,500 more troops to help in the offensive in the south.

Taniwal, a former sociology professor at Kabul University who went into exile in Australia during the Taliban's rule, returned to join Karzai's administration in 2002, serving as governor of Khost province, as minister of mines and industry, and for the past year as governor of Paktia province. An elder of his Tanai tribe, he was the type of man Karzai was trying to place in senior posts around the country, replacing the warlords and mujahedeen commanders with educated men who could promote education and the rule of law.

"Mr. Taniwal was a patriot, a man of both action and academic achievements," Karzai said in a statement condemning the attack. "The enemies of Afghanistan are trying to kill those people who are working for the peace and prosperity of Afghanistan. The enemies of Afghanistan must understand that we have millions of people like Mr. Taniwal who will continue to serve this great nation."

The suicide bomber who killed Taniwal was on foot, detonating his explosives around 1 p.m. as the governor's unarmored car was pulling away from his office in Gardez, the Paktia province police chief, Gen. Abdul Hanan Raufi, said.

The blast killed all three men in the car, including the driver and Taniwal's assistant, his cousin, the general said. The blast also wounded six others, including three police officers.

Two Americans were reported killed in the fighting in southern Afghanistan, NATO officials said. The two were trainers with Afghan army troops, and they died in separate incidents Saturday night: one in Kandahar province and the other in neighboring Zabul province.

NATO officials said yesterday that troops had killed 94 Taliban fighters in several clashes overnight in the Panjwai and Zhare districts of Kandahar province. In one incident, Taliban fighters were seen gathering to mount a counterattack and were killed in airstrikes, the statement said.

NATO spokesmen have said that their estimates of Taliban casualties have been conservative and are gathered from battle reports, air surveillance and satellite pictures. But there has been no way to independently verify the losses amid the heavy fighting in the area and the lack of access for journalists.

Last week, the governor of Kandahar, Asadullah Khalid, said he had learned that a family of 13 had been killed in an airstrike on their house in the area.

NATO forces are trying to dislodge the Taliban fighters in the region, estimated to number several hundred even accounting for the 400 reported to have been killed in the past 10 days of fighting. The operation, meant to allow the return of villagers displaced by the fighting and Taliban presence, is now in its second week.

The scale of the fighting has surprised NATO commanders, who took over the security operation in southern Afghanistan from the Americans in August.

NATO officials announced more meetings this week to urge member nations to send long-promised reinforcements to Afghanistan, after the meeting in Warsaw, Poland, ended with no commitments.

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