KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — One of the most devastating Taliban assassination strikes of the long Afghan war killed top leaders of Kandahar Province on Thursday, in an attack that missed the top American commander in the country, Gen. Austin S. Miller, just two days before national elections that had already been undermined by violence.
Inside the provincial governor’s compound in Kandahar City, at least one attacker fatally shot the region’s powerful police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq and the provincial intelligence chief. The gunfire wounded the provincial governor, another police commander and three Americans, Afghan officials said.
General Raziq, who had survived dozens of attempts on his life, was widely considered to be an indispensable security chief with influence across critical areas of southern Afghanistan, in the Taliban heartland. He was valued by American commanders as a fierce ally against the insurgents, but human rights advocates criticized him for brutal tactics that at times swept up innocent civilians as well as militants.
“At 3:30 pm, after a meeting about the security of elections, when the high-ranking participants were heading to helicopters, an enemy infiltrator opened fire on them,” the deputy minister of interior, Gen. Akhtar Mohammad Ibrahimi, said at a news conference. “The police chief, General Raziq, and the provincial intelligence chief, General Abdul Momin, were killed.”
In a statement, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had specifically been aimed at General Raziq and General Miller. The American military released a statement confirming that General Miller, who was in the compound at the time of the attack, was not hurt, but that three Americans had been wounded.
Early on, there were conflicting reports about whether Gov. Zalmai Wesa and Gen. Nabi Elham, the police commander for the southern zone with responsibility for several provinces, had survived the attack. General Ibahimi said both “are wounded but are under medical operation,” though it was not clear how severe their injuries were.
In a brief televised message, President Ashraf Ghani said that he had dispatched his intelligence chief and other senior officials to Kandahar to investigate the situation.
“I promise the Afghan people that soon the situation will get normal in Kandahar,” Mr. Ghani said.
It was not clear if there had been only one gunman, but accounts of the assassination pointed to an insider attack, carried out by a turncoat among the Afghan security personnel there.
“It’s believed that one of the governor’s guards opened fire, but it is not yet confirmed,” said Agha Lalay Datagiri, the deputy governor of Kandahar.
Coming ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections on Saturday, the loss of the Kandahar leadership casts a further shadow on a political season already marred by bloodshed. One-third of polling stations will not open because of security, and at least 10 candidates and dozens of their supporters have been killed. The Taliban have threatened to attack polling places.
Another major attack last year inside the Kandahar governor’s officetook a heavy toll on officials, killing a deputy governor, the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, and members of Parliament. The governor at the time survived with burns and wounds. General Raziq had just stepped out of the room.