- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | A powerful member of President Hamid Karzai’s Cabinet threatened to quit after a suicide car bomb attack targeted him Sunday, killing five people, in the latest Taliban attempt to destabilize Afghanistan’s struggling government. Two Americans were among six NATO troop deaths elsewhere.

Shortly after the bombing in the western city of Herat, Energy Minister Ismail Khan railed against the dramatic rise in violence in Afghanistan, saying that thousands of new refugees are seeking shelter in Herat because of militant attacks in outlying districts. Five civilians died in the failed assassination attempt, police said.

Two days ago, Mr. Khan said, a young man was hanged by militants a few miles outside a NATO base and Afghan government center. Kidnappings of wealthy family members are on the rise, including the abduction of girls, he said.

Mr. Khan said government security agents had warned him that insurgents planned to target him. Two earlier assassination attempts had been foiled, he said.

“Very clearly I want to say that if the government does not form a clear strategy to bring peace and security, and the situation continues like this, I will not participate in the Cabinet anymore,” Mr. Khan said.

Taliban assassination attempts against Afghan officials have intensified this year, with more than 100 officials and pro-government tribal elders attacked - half of them fatally. Echoing a strategy of insurgents in Iraq, the targeted violence undermines the weak government and drives educated and competent Afghans away from official posts.

The convoy carrying Mr. Khan, a power broker in Herat and former governor of that western province, was headed to the airport when a suicide car bomb exploded outside a high school, said Raouf Ahmadi, a police spokesman. Mr. Khan said five civilians died and 17 people were wounded, including four of Mr. Khan’s bodyguards.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, claimed responsibility and said the target was Mr. Khan.

The Taliban assassination campaign is a strong sign of deteriorating security in the country, where a record number of U.S. and NATO troops also have died this year. The Obama administration is now debating whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan as its government faces allegations of widespread fraud in the disputed Aug. 20 presidential election.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates issued a stern warning to critics of a continued U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan Sunday, saying the Islamic extremists Taliban and al Qaeda would perceive an early pullout as a victory similar to the Soviet Union’s humiliating withdrawal in 1989 after a 10-year war.

“Taliban and al Qaeda, as far as they’re concerned, defeated one superpower. For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think, would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, al Qaeda recruitment, operations, fundraising, and so on. I think it would be a huge setback for the United States,” Mr. Gates said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

But many Americans are skeptical of sending more troops to support a government in the midst of recounting votes from a tainted presidential election.

This year has been the deadliest of the eight-year war for U.S. and NATO troops. The six latest deaths bring to 64 the number of NATO troops killed this month.

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