Suicide bomber kills Kandahar deputy governor

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed the deputy governor of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province and wounded at least five others on Saturday, officials said.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001 with casualties on all sides at record levels.

Deputy Governor Abdul Latif Ashna was killed as he left his home in Kandahar city, capital of Kandahar province, to go to work, the governor’s spokesman Zalmay Ayoubi said. The civilians wounded in the blast had been taken to hospital, he added.

An official from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kandahar, who declined to be named, confirmed Ashna had been killed in a suicide attack. No further details were immediately available.

U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry who was visiting Kandahar on Saturday condemned the death but said it would not sap efforts to defeat the insurgency.

“The loss of a great deputy governor like this is a setback. What we’ve seen is consistently Afghan government leaders emerge and the people continue to rally in an effort to establish security in this province,” he told journalists.

Thousands of U.S.-led and Afghan forces have stepped up operations against the insurgents in and around the city over the past year in an attempt to turn the tide in an unpopular war that has now dragged on for almost ten years.

A war review by U.S. President Barack Obama last month said “notable operational gains” had been made and the Taliban’s momentum arrested in much of the country. But many critics dispute those assessments, pointing out that statistics show insurgent attacks are at their highest since the war started.

Militants have also stepped up the use of targeted assassinations, particularly government and political figures over the past year. Between mid-June and mid-September, 21 people were reported to be assassinated each week, equal to three killings every day, the United Nations has said.