Governor in Afghanistan's volatile south survives bomb attack that targets his convoy

By AMIR SHAH

Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The governor of an important and volatile southern province in Afghanistan escaped an apparent assassination attempt Monday after a bomb exploded by his vehicle convoy, officials said.

The bomb, aimed at the convoy of Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid, wounded three civilians, Khalid's office said in a statement. Khalid was not wounded, it said.

Kandahar is the former stronghold of the Taliban movement and is a major producer of opium poppies. The province has seen fierce fighting involving U.S., NATO and Taliban forces the last two years.

Also Monday, the reclusive leader of the Taliban said through a spokesman that the Islamic militia is not a threat to other countries and called on citizens of NATO nations to pressure their governments to withdraw troops from the country.

Mullah Omar said the U.S. military has failed in Afghanistan and that is why the Pentagon is pressuring other NATO countries to send more troops, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid quoted Omar as saying. Mujahid has spoken on behalf of Omar previously, though the validity of his statements could not be verified.

Pakistan's army, meanwhile, said its troops critically wounded and captured a top Taliban official after a gunbattle near the country's border with Afghanistan. The army said Mansoor Dadullah and six other militants were caught after crossing into southwestern Pakistan.

The blast against Khalid's convoy follows a suicide bomb attack that killed the deputy governor of neighboring Helmand province late last month as he was praying inside a mosque in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.

Militants have often attacked governors and other officials affiliated with President Hamid Karzai's administration in an attempt to weaken the government's command over the country. Khalid has survived previous assassination attempts.

Also in the south, a militant cleric and two of his children were killed when a bomb he was preparing in his home exploded prematurely, an Afghan official said Monday.

Mullah Abdul Wasay was tinkering with the explosives at his home Saturday night in Helmand province when they blew up, provincial police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal said. Wasay's wife and daughter were seriously wounded, he said.

Troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force, meanwhile, killed an Afghan riding in a car that drove too close to the soldiers in the western province of Farah, ISAF said in a statement. Soldiers signaled the driver not to approach and fired a warning shot at the ground, ISAF said.

"ISAF troops continued on and were later informed by Afghan National Police that their warning shot had ricocheted and injured the car's driver and killed the passenger," the international military alliance said.

ISAF said the shot fell within rules of engagement that help protect troops from suicide bombers.

Last year, the Taliban staged more than 140 suicide missions -- the highest number since they were ousted from power by the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.

Insurgency-related violence in 2007 killed a record 6,500 people, mostly militants, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials. The majority of those deaths were in the south, and particularly in Helmand.

Omar's comments about not being a threat to NATO countries could be seen as an effort to distinguish the Taliban militia from al-Qaida, which operates in the same Afghanistan-Pakistan region as Taliban militants.

He said through Mujahid that the Taliban has a right to "defend our country."

"We are not a threat to other countries. But we have to use our rights when our country is occupied by foreign forces," Mujahid quoted Omar as saying. "We want the people of other countries to pressure their governments not to send troops to Afghanistan."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been pushing NATO countries to increase their troop levels in Afghanistan. Last week Gates said he fears NATO may become a "two-tiered alliance," with "some allies willing to fight and die to protect people's security, and others who are not."

Of the 42,000 NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, about 14,000 are American. The U.S. has an additional 13,000 operating separately hunting terrorists and training Afghan forces.

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Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.