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The Taliban delivered one of their sharpest blows Wednesday since Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential elections, killing the country's deputy intelligence chief and other high-ranking officials in a suicide attack that left 23 dead outside Kabul.
The attack comes amid rising tensions for the Obama administration, which is scrambling to assist Afghanistan to rectify an election riddled with fraud allegations, while also conducting a major policy review of military strategy in Afghanistan amid record levels of American and coalition troop deaths.
The assassination of such a high-ranking official highlighted a serious breach in Afghanistan's security apparatus, and proved a long-sought-after victory for the insurgents, The New York Times reports:
Dr. Abdullah Laghmani, the deputy director of the National Directorate for Security, the country's intelligence service, was killed about 10:30 a.m. as he left the main mosque in Mehterlam, where he had gone to talk with local residents about their problems, witnesses said.
The assassination was carried out by a suicide bomber on foot who targeted Dr. Laghmani and other government officials, said Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Mr. Mujahid said the insurgency had long sought to kill Dr. Abdullah, the former head of intelligence for Kandahar Province, who he claimed had committed crimes by detaining and jailing many people.
Also killed in the attack were said to be "the heads of the provincial council and provincial executive body," Reuters reports, adding that there were conflicting reports on whether provincial governor Lutfullah Mashal had also been wounded.
In Pakistan Wednesday, the minister of religious affairs, an outspoken critic of the Taliban, was wounded in an attack in Islamabad that left his driver dead, reports Pakistani daily Dawn. The attack is significant in that it took place in the capital, where security is heavy, and targeted a high-ranking official. Taken with the attack outside of Kabul, it showcases the capacity of militants in both Afghanistan and Pakistan to target high-level targets even in high security situations.
The British newspaper The Guardian points out that audacious attacks in Afghanistan like Wednesday's have become more frequent.
The Taliban have mounted increasingly audacious attacks against high profile targets. Last month a suicide bomber exploded a car outside the Nato-led military mission in Kabul, killing seven Afghans and wounding 91 people including Nato soldiers in an attack that penetrated a heavily guarded neighbourhood five days before the presidential election.
In recent months the Taliban have shown their capacity to mount co-ordinated attacks with several teams of insurgents targeting government sites. Military analysts attribute the increased sophistication to training by al-Qaida operatives. As well as suicide bombers, the Taliban's use of roadside bombs has accounted for most of the recent deaths of British and other Nato troops.
Such attacks have compelled the new commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to consider sending more soldiers to fight the Taliban. But The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that adding troops may not be popular at home.
Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal is likely to seek from two to four additional brigades – or as many as 20,000 more US soldiers beyond the 65,000 already in Afghanistan – as part of a "revised strategy" to better protect the Afghan population and accelerate the training of Afghan security forces, sources at the Pentagon and elsewhere say.
But such a request will come amid signs of faltering domestic support for the Afghanistan effort and as Mr. Obama, facing a worrisome overall erosion of public confidence, hopes to focus attention on his drive for healthcare reform.