A powerful Afghan police general has been assassinated in an insider attack, robbing president Ashraf Ghani of a key security official and threatening his fragile grip on southern Afghanistan.
Gen Abdul Razik was shot dead alongside the Kandahar spy chief and provincial governor shortly after a meeting with the top US military commander in the country.
The Taliban said they were behind the attack which saw one of the provincial governor's bodyguards open fire after a meeting with Gen Scott Miller, the top Nato and US commander in Afghanistan. Gen Miller was unhurt, but two Americans were wounded.
The assassination dealt a severe blow to Mr Ghani's security forces less than 48 hours before he attempts to hold nationwide parliamentary elections against a backdrop of brutal insurgent violence.
Gen Raziq had been the most powerful government figure in southern Afghanistan for much of the past decade, where as Kandahar police chief he had been an aggressive opponent of the Taliban.
His young age and boyish looks belied a ruthless commander and he was accused of systematic torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances. He denied the accusations.
However Western commanders considered him a bulwark against the encroaching Taliban and one of their most effective partners as he brought a measure of stability to Afghanistan's second city. He estimated he had survived dozens of assassination attempts.
The Taliban named the attacker as Abu Dujana and said: “The brutal police chief of Kandahar has been killed along several other officials.”
Said Jan Khakrezwal, the head of the provincial council, told Reuters: "Provincial officials including the governor, the police chief and other officials were accompanying the foreign guests to the plane when the gunshots happened."
The shooting wiped out the top of Kandahar's security apparatus at a stroke, also killing the province's intelligence chief Abdul Mohmin and provincial governor Zalmay Wesa.
The killings came only a day after a prominent politician, Abdul Jabar Qahraman, became the tenth election candidate to die ahead of Saturday's polls when a Taliban bomb was hidden under his chair.
Graeme Smith, a former UN political analyst in Kabul said: “The incident will make the military balance in southern Afghanistan considerably more fragile, as Raziq was often at the forefront of government efforts to slow the Taliban’s advances.”
Saturday will see Afghanistan's only third parliamentary election since the Taliban were ousted. The insurgents have vowed to disrupt what they call a bogus poll.