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Elections In Afghanistan's Kandahar Province To Be Delayed A Week

Afghan General Abdul Raziq (center), police chief of Kandahar, poses for a picture during a graduation ceremony at a police training center in Kandahar in February 2017.
Afghan General Abdul Raziq (center), police chief of Kandahar, poses for a picture during a graduation ceremony at a police training center in Kandahar in February 2017.

Parliamentary elections in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar will be delayed by one week following the assassination of the powerful provincial police commander, Afghan officials said.

Hafizullah Hashimi, spokesman of the Independent Election Commission, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that the decision to postpone the October 20 vote does not affect voting in the rest of the country.

The decision was made following an attack earlier this week that killed General Abdul Raziq, the region's top police official. At least two others were killed and 13 were wounded in the October 17 shooting, which was committed by a bodyguard of another top official.

Raziq's killing was a major blow to the western-backed government in Kabul.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying, "The brutal police chief of Kandahar has been killed along with several other officials."

"Unfortunately, Afghanistan lost its sons...and it is possible that holding elections will create challenges in Kandahar. So, the Election Commission decided to propose the postponement of the election," Wasima Badghisi, a member of the commission, told Radio Free Afghanistan.

Haroon Chakhansori, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, also announced the delay on his official Twitter account.

Interior Ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said police had detained three suspects in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah but did not provide further details.

Afghan officials said the bodyguard opened fire after a high-level security meeting in the governor's compound. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, was present at the gathering but was unhurt.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a Twitter post that they had targeted Miller, along with Raziq, in the attack, but the U.S. general discounted the claim, and Afghan officials said the militants may have purposely avoided hitting him.

"My assessment is that I was not the target. It was a very close confined space. But I don't assess that I was the target," Miller told Tolo News TV.

"They didn't want repercussions from the U.S. and the international community. It was a pure warning for Miller that they can hit him if they want to," one Afghan official was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Raziq was one of Afghanistan's most powerful commanders, with a fearsome reputation as an enemy of the Taliban.

A close ally of the U.S. military, Raziq has been credited with pacifying large swaths of Kandahar. However, human rights groups have accused him of gross human rights violations, including forcible disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings.

Also killed was the provincial intelligence head, Abdul Momin Hassankhail, along with an Afghan journalist.

Around 14,000 U.S. troops are currently in Afghanistan, and Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner told Reuters the attack in Kandahar "will not change U.S. resolve in our South Asia strategy, if anything it makes us more resolute."

Afghanistan remains on high alert ahead of the long-delayed parliamentary elections on October 20 after the Taliban pledged to block the vote.

The run-up to the elections has been marred by deadly militant attacks and targeted killings of candidates, 10 of whom have been killed so far.

More than 2,500 candidates are competing for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP