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Targeted killings new weapon for Taliban

world Updated: May 24, 2010 01:26 IST
Joshua Partlow
Targeted killings

The Wolesi family was everything the American military cannot afford to lose.

The father was a devoted civil servant. The mother taught sewing classes for the UN. The eldest son, Jawed Ahmad, worked as an interpreter at the NATO base.

But with a dozen bullets last month, the Taliban won the battle for the Wolesi family. Ahmad's father was executed in the street. His mother quit her job. Ahmad dropped out of college and does not want to leave the house. Or open his mouth: "When my father passed away, I lost my English," he said in Pashto.

In Kandahar, the Taliban's best weapon has become the calculated assassination. The tools of this campaign are rudimentary — ropes, knives, rifles — but the results are devastating. By executing those who work or sympathise with the government, the Taliban has made clear that those supporting the American military effort here are risking their lives. Each new death brings more dread in a city of hunters and hunted.

"They're watching us. We don't know who, but they're watching," Ahmad said. "Nowhere is safe. We can't escape."

The killings take aim at the fundamental goal of the US military's planned summer offensive in Kandahar: To build a credible local government that responds to the needs of the people.

In the past month, about six people have quit the already understaffed provincial government, and other federal ministry representatives in the province have taken leave. Targeted by bombs and killings of their local staff, foreigners working for US government contractors and the UN have fled for Kabul.

The tactics in Kandahar differ from those in other major cities, such as Kabul, where attacks often involve high-profile, multipronged assaults by gunmen and suicide bombers against government or commercial buildings. The killers here rely on stealth and speed.

The spate of killings has reached the rate of one to two a week. Targets are everywhere: Government bureaucrats, policemen, aid workers, tribal elders. In the first four months of the year, 27 government officials or Afghans working with foreign contractors in Kandahar were killed, according to US figures. In the same period in 2009, there were 15 such killings; in 2008, there were six.

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