Vote delayed after police chief murdered

In this photo taken on January 2, 2018, Afghan General Abdul Raziq, police chief of Kandahar, looks on as he speaks during a press conference in Kandahar provinceImage copyright

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Gen Raziq was a powerful opponent of the Taliban

Parliamentary elections in the Afghan province of Kandahar have been delayed by a week after the assassination of a powerful local police chief.

Gen Abdul Raziq was shot dead by a rogue bodyguard on Thursday.

The Taliban claimed the attack, which came after a high-level security meeting. US commander Gen Scott Miller narrowly escaped unhurt.

The local intelligence head was also killed and the governor was critically injured. Three Americans were hurt.

A spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani said that voting in the province would be delayed by a week in line with the wishes of the people.

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Elections are due to be held across most of the rest of Afghanistan on Saturday. Security forces are already stretched, with more than 50,000 personnel being deployed for polling day.

The Taliban, who referred to Gen Raziq as a “brutal police chief”, have urged voters to boycott the poll.

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The attack in Kandahar has raised questions over security forces in Afghanistan

Correspondents say Gen Raziq was renowned as a powerful opponent of the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan – where the militant group is at its strongest.

His assassination is seen as a hugely significant victory for the Taliban and a major blow to the Afghan and US counter-insurgency campaign.

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It is the first time since the 2001 US-led military intervention that the top commander of US/Nato forces has been involved in such an incident.

What happened in Thursday’s attack?

Afghan and international security officials said Gen Raziq was shot in the back as he left the meeting and walked towards an area where the helicopter taking the US group back to Kabul was coming in to land.

“Provincial officials including the governor, the police chief and other officials were accompanying the foreign guests when the gunshots happened,” said Jan Khakrezwal, head of the Kandahar provincial council.

Local officials suggested that Gen Miller appeared to have been saved by his body armour. The US military only said that he was uninjured and denied he had been one of the intended targets.

At least two hand grenade explosions were also reported.

Initial reports said the attacker was killed in an ensuing shoot-out.

Where does this leave the election?

Afghan officials had warned that attacks ahead of the parliamentary election were likely. The Taliban has warned voters not to take part in what they say is a ballot imposed by foreigners.

Some expressed fears that Gen Raziq’s death could keep voters away from polling stations.

“Gen Raziq’s death will have a huge impact on security and the election in the south because a lot of voters may not feel safe to go to vote,” a senior security official told Reuters.

Media captionAfghan “war on terror” generation votes

The vote is the third parliamentary election to be held since the Taliban were removed from power in 2001.

At least 10 candidates have been killed in attacks around the country in the run-up to the vote. There have also been attacks on voter registration centres, including one in April which killed nearly 60 people.

The vote is being seen as a test of political reforms undertaken by the Afghan government as well as its ability to organise a free and fair vote.

It comes ahead of the all-important presidential elections due in April 2019.

What about US forces in Afghanistan?

American combat operations against the Taliban officially ended in 2014, but more than 8,000 US special forces remained in the country, backing and providing training and assistance to Afghan troops.

Last year, US President Donald Trump signalled that he would keep US boots on the ground indefinitely amid concerns that the Taliban was gaining ground.

The US forces are part of the Nato-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, which has more than 16,000 personnel.