| A US special forces bodyguard (left) with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul recently. (Reuters)
Washington, Sept. 5 (Reuters): US special operations troops guarding Afghan President Hamid Karzai shot dead at least one attacker who apparently tried to assassinate Karzai in Kandahar today, American defence officials said.
The US Central Command said in a statement from its headquarters in Tampa, Florida, that one US soldier was slightly injured in the attack and was being treated in Afghanistan following the failed attempt.
Afghan officials said Karzai survived the assassination attempt but that one US army special forces soldier and the governor of Kandahar, Gul Agha Sherzai, were wounded.
President George W. Bush welcomed word that Karzai, a close ally in the US war on terrorism, was unhurt.
“The President was informed and expressed his relief that President Karzai was unhurt,” said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.
The incident followed an explosion earlier in the day in Kabul that killed at least 15 people.
A small, elite US military force was assigned to guard Karzai in late July after reports that al Qaida and Taliban remnants might attempt to assassinate government leaders.
Fifteen US soldiers were assigned at that time to provide around-the-clock security at the presidential palace alongside Karzai’s existing bodyguards from the Northern Alliance, the most powerful faction in his coalition government.
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld said when the move was made that the security job for American soldiers could last several months. Today’s attempt came ahead of a planned transfer of that protection from the US military to special guards supplied by the US state department.
The United States, which overthrew Afghanistan’s former Taliban rulers after accusing it of harbouring the militant al Qaida movement behind the September 11 attacks, has strongly backed Karzai as the new leader.
Bush has called for a massive international effort to rebuild the country, devastated after decades of fighting, but has been reluctant to expand the international peacekeeping force there as urged by Karzai.
The United States has about 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, pursuing operations to track down Taliban and al Qaida fighters.
It does not contribute to the peacekeeping force.
Al Qaida link
Foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah said today’s assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai could be the work of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network. “Al Qaida or elements of al Qaida could be behind that,” Abdullah told a news briefing in Kabul hours after Karzai survived an attempt on his life by a lone gunman.
He also said a huge car bomb that went off earlier in Kabul, killing at least 15 people according to police, was the work of the al Qaida network blamed for the September 11 attacks.
“Whatever it is it is linked to the same terrorist organisation,” he said. Abdullah said that the two attacks proved that the al Qaida were still active in Afghanistan.