Key senior Afghan official killed in suicide attack

KABUL, Afghanistan — A suicide attacker on Saturday killed a senior Afghan official in the south of the country, a setback for U.S.-led efforts to improve governance and a demonstration of the insurgents' continuing ability to strike.

Abdul Latif Ashna, the deputy governor of the key province of Kandahar, was killed when his car was struck by a man on a motorbike packed with explosives.

Kandahar province is the subject of a major U.S.-led military push, starting last summer, which has seen thousands of international and Afghan forces pour into Kandahar city and the surrounding districts, with major success claimed in improving security there. Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban movement.

While the Taliban's visible presence and ability to mount military-style attacks has been severely curbed around Kandahar, the insurgents retain the ability to carry out targeted assassinations, striking terror into government officials and others working with international security forces. Improving Afghan government services must accompany better security under the U.S. strategy to make the country self-sufficient.

"Enemies of the people targeted a courageous man who had delivered his honest services to the people of Kandahar," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in a statement.

Ashna had left his home and was on his way to his office at 9 a.m. when the assailant rammed his motorbike into the official's car, killing him and injuring three others, said a statement from the governor of Kandahar. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Toryalai Weesa, the governor for Kandahar, told McClatchy that Ashna was a "good man."

"He has served as a teacher in Kandahar University and also as head of the rural (development) department," the governor said.