A powerful security official and the local intelligence chief were killed in an insider attack shortly after meeting the top US commander in Afghanistan on Thursday, in an attack likely to shake the confidence of the government ahead of elections. The Kandahar governor Zalmai Wessa, was wounded in the attack.
Kandahar police chief General Abdul Raziq and the local head of the National Directorate of Security Abdul Momin were killed when a member of the provincial governor's elite guards turned his gun on his colleagues and American troops who were leaving a high-level security meeting at the Kandahar palace on Thursday.
The commander of the Nato mission to Afghanistan US General Scott Miller was in a meeting with the Afghan officials moments before the attack but was unharmed. Three foreign coalition members were injured in the incident, a Nato spokesperson said, and a local cameraman was reportedly killed.
"There was a situation at the Kandahar palace today. Initial reports indicate this was an Afghan-on-Afghan incident," Colonel Knut Peters, a spokesman for Nato's Afghanistan mission told The National. "General Miller is uninjured. We are being told the area is secure."
He later added: "Three coalition personnel were wounded - one US service member, one American civilian and one coalition contractor."
Col Peters said initial reports indicated the original attacker is dead. He had no further information.
The attack was the latest in a string of attacks targeting officials and candidates in the lead up to the October 20 parliamentary elections.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. "The target of the attack was General Miller and General Abdul Raziq," a Taliban spokesman said.
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The attack was a massive blow ahead of the elections, analysts said.
"This serious attack seems likely to shake the confidence of the government as security forces prepare for one of their largest operations of the year, guarding more than 5000 polling centres in the upcoming parliamentary elections," said Graeme Smith, a consultant for the conflict monitoring organisation International Crisis Group.
He continued: "The incident will also make the military balance in southern Afghanistan considerably more fragile, as General Raziq was often at the forefront of government efforts to slow the Taliban's advances."
The Taliban's 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 doesn't 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".
“Any significant rise in violence and attacks could mean that those who are not convinced that talking to the Taliban is the right option, their voice is amplified,” she added.
Locals in Kandahar reported hearing a large explosion followed by gunfire. Afterwards residents said they feared the attack could portend more calamity.
"Things could dramatically change with the loss of these three officials," said Gul Lalai, a 30-year-old Kandahar resident. "Civilians have gone indoors and locked their doors. As the police chief of Kandahar General Raziq brought a lot of security reforms and the city was much safer under him. He had given Kandaharis a confidence in the region, but that is about to change."
Known as the most powerful force in southern Afghanistan and described as a "one man army", General Raziq was renowned for flouting rules and violating human rights but also credited with keeping Kandahar relatively stable and free from Taliban presence.
A 2011 profile by the American magazine The Atlantic titled "Our man in Afghanistan" described General Raziq as a key US ally, who received billions in dollars of American aid to fight the Taliban. But he was also accused of torture and corruption.
General Raziq survived several attempts on his life over many years. He narrowly escaped an attack last year in which five Emiratis were killed and the UAE's ambassador to Afghanistan was severely injured. Ambassador Juma Al Kaabi later died of his injuries.
Governor Wesa took charge of the province after his predecessor Humayun Azizi was injured in the same 2017 attack.
General Miller expressed his condolences to the people of Afghanistan after the attack.