Kabul - Afghanistan's head of intelligence was wounded in an assassination attempt claimed by the Taliban on Thursday just months after he took office as Kabul seeks to navigate the impending departure of NATO combat troops.
Asadullah Khalid, who heads the National Directorate of Security (NDS), was injured in an attack by a visitor in a spy agency guesthouse in the upscale Kabul district of Taimani, security sources told AFP.
Khalid was rushed into surgery but his life was not in danger, presidency spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP.
President Hamid Karzai visited the hospital where surgeons “assured the president that he is stable and his injury is not life threatening”, the spokesman said.
There were earlier conflicting reports on Khalid's condition, with some officials saying he was seriously wounded in the stomach and the head. The Taliban claimed he was in a coma after one of its fighters carried out a suicide attack.
Afghan officials were also tight-lipped on the nature of the attack. Police said Khalid was wounded by a grenade. Afghan security sources said the visitor, who had been searched before being allowed into the guesthouse, was killed in the explosion.
There were also unconfirmed reports from senior Afghan government officials that it had been a suicide attack.
Karzai strongly condemned the “cowardly” attack by terrorists, his spokesman said.
The Taliban claimed that one of its suicide bombers targeted Khalid.
“As a result of a suicide attack carried out by hero mujahedeen Hafiz Mohammad inside a guest house, a large number of intelligence officials were injured,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an email to AFP.
“Intelligence chief Asadullah Khalid was the primary target and according to our information is in a coma,” he added.
The NDS plays a crucial role in the fight against the Taliban, who have been waging an insurgency since being ousted from power by the 2001 US-led invasion for harbouring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.
Its influence on the conduct of the war is likely to grow as the US and NATO withdraw the vast bulk of their combat troops from the country by the end of 2014 and hand responsibility for the war to Afghan security forces.
A former cabinet minister and a key anti-Taliban figure, Khalid was nominated by President Hamid Karzai in August and approved by parliament despite objections from Western rights groups and accusations that he tortured detainees.
He is close to the Karzai family and his appointment was interpreted as part of an effort by the president to secure his power base before anointing a successor to stand for election in 2014.
Amnesty International had urged parliament to delay its approval of Khalid, asking lawmakers to investigate claims of his “involvement in numerous alleged acts of torture and other grave human rights violations”.
The London-based rights group said he had been linked to numerous cases of torture and unlawful killings over the past decade, while serving as governor of Ghazni province from 2001-05 and of Kandahar from 2005-08.
It also said there were credible allegations that Khalid was involved in the bombing of a vehicle that killed five UN workers in Kandahar in April 2007.
Afghan police and other security forces are increasingly targets of Taliban attacks as they take a bigger role in the fight ahead of the NATO withdrawal.
Karzai cannot stand for re-election in 2014, having served the two terms permitted under the constitution, but is widely seen as seeking to hand over power to a family member or a hand-picked successor.
There are widespread fears that Afghanistan could once again plunge into chaos and a civil war after the NATO withdrawal, particularly if the 2014 elections are fraudulent.
Earlier Thursday, officials said the Afghan government had decided to scrap a UN-backed election watchdog in favour of a tribunal that could give Karzai more control over the polls.
The controversial decision to scrap the Electoral Complaint Commission (ECC) was taken Monday, but requires approval from parliament to come into effect.
The ECC, made up of three Afghans and two foreign UN representatives, investigated complaints related to the 2009 elections. - Sapa-AFP