Taliban Stages Election-eve Attack on Afghan, U.S. Troops

No let-up in challenge to Pakistani Government Seen

Members of the Taliban in Pakistan (photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)
Members of the Taliban in Pakistan
(photo credit: STRINGER/ REUTERS)
In a sign of the ongoing Taliban challenge to the authority of the central government in Kabul, the Taliban managed to infiltrate a gunman to assassinate two senior officers and wound American troops in the troubled southeastern Kandahar province on Thursday.
General Abdul Razeq, police commander and the local head of the National Directorate of Security were both fatally wounded in the Taliban attack
The top Afghan officials were meeting with General Scott Miller, Commander of US and NATO forces inside Governor s House - the provincial administrative center.
General Miller escaped the scene safely but according to Afghan intelligence sources, three US nationals were also wounded in the attack staged less than 72 hours before voters were expected to turn out for parliamentary elections.
“A state of emergency has been declared in the area and the shooter was killed in a fierce exchange of fire,” said Muhammed Qaim Achakzai, an Afghan intelligence official.
General Miller took over the command in Afghanistan last month as the top American officer replacing Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr.
“Razeq was shot as he was seeing off General Miller as his guest stepped into an army helicopter,” Achakzai, told The Media Line.
 The violence comes just days after a senior U.S. envoy conducted high level talks with Taliban negotiators in the Qatari capital despite continued calls for a boycott of Saturday’s elections by the hardline Islamist movement.
In a Taliban press release obtained by The Media Line, the organization announced that group’s political chief Al-Haj Sher Muhammed Abbas Stankzai and his deputy Moulana Abdul Saleem Hanafi met with senior American officials including Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha Sunday.
“The parties held discussions on ending foreign occupation and ways to find a peaceful solution for the Afghan conflict,” said the Taliban statement.
Deployment of fifteen thousand US troops in Afghanistan is consistently labeled an “occupation” by the Taliban.
By contrast, the government in Kabul holds the position that the Americans are invited to Afghanistan in an “advise-and-assist role” to stabilize the country.
Last month President Donald Trump appointed Khalilzad as his special Afghanistan envoy tasking him with bringing the Kabul government and the Taliban to an agreement.
But Khalilzad 67, whose career includes stints as US ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq and as President George W. Bush’s UN envoy has caused consternation in Kabul by holding separate talks with Taliban in Doha while the group threatens to attack polling stations.
“No Afghan official or representative of the Afghan people was present,” said Rangeen Spanta, a national security advisor in the administration of former president Hamid Karzai who led the country from December 2001 to September 2014. 
“Efforts with the Taliban done behind closed doors in Qatar will not be fruitful,” Spanta said.
A source in the National Directorate of Security intelligence agency told The Media Line that the Kabul government feels undermined by direct US talks with the Taliban even as the group launches attacks on its struggling NATO-backed army.
 “We know the Americans discussed the release of Taliban prisoners release held by ourselves and US forces,” said the official. “It’s a major concession for them to hold these talks without us since they characterize the Ashraf Ghani administration as puppets of foreign invaders.”
The Taliban political leadership enjoys continued backing from clerics and security officials in neighboring Pakistan.
To that end, Afghan government officials met last week with prominent hardline Pakistani cleric Maulana Sami Ul Haque, in their own independent bid to seek help in brokering peace talks directly with the Taliban.
Sami Ul Haque is considered a patron of the Taliban, known for his close ties with the group’s late leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Jalal ud Din Haqqani, who directed multiple attacks on American-led NATO forces and the present Afghan government until his death last month.
Well-placed sources told The Media Line that the seven-member Afghan delegation was led by Attaullah Ludin, deputy head of the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC)
“Afghan government officials know very well about the importance and influence of Sami Ul Haque over Afghanistan’s tribes,” the cleric’s spokesman Maulana Yousaf Shah told The Media Line. “President Ghani has called Sami Ul Haque several times requesting him to encourage the Taliban to participate in peace efforts.”
American envoy Khalilzad was also in Islamabad on October 9th for meetings on the Afghan situation-- which unlike the Doha parlay with the Taliban, was confirmed publicly by the U.S. State Department.