Per the headlines, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller was caught in the crossfire during Thursday’s insider attack on a high-level security meeting between the U.S., NATO and provincial officials in the Kandahar province. The attack resulted in two wounded Americans, including a service member and a civilian government employee, all of whom have been evacuated and remain in stable condition.
On the Afghan side, the attack was an assassination of a powerful local police chief by his own guard. A local Afghan intelligence chief was also killed and an Afghan governor critically injured in what is widely regarded as a “stable” (for Afghanistan) province, hence the location of the meetings.
According to a tweet from Kabul Tribune editor Mustafa Kazemi, Miller had just stood up to leave the meeting when a gunman dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire:
A source from Kandahar tells me the moment @ResoluteSupport commander Gen. Miller stood up to leave the meeting, the automatic fire spree started. He hadn't left the room nor taken a step yet when it began. He rolled behind a sofa & took cover. As narrated by a survivors.
— Mustafa Kazemi (@CombatJourno) October 18, 2018
Miller not only took cover but drew his personal weapon, although he did not fire it.
CNN reported that according to a military official, “It’s so rare for such a senior US military officer to be in a position that would require him to draw a weapon that US military officials said they could not immediately recall a similar case.”
Kazemi tweeted further updates Friday, noting that of those killed, former police chief of Kandahar, the late Gen. Abdul Raziq, 39, was posthumously promoted to the rank of Four Star General of the Police, and former intelligence director, Gen. Mohd Momin, was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant General.
Interestingly, state representation at the funeral of General Raziq, regarded as “the most powerful official in southern Afghanistan,” was conspicuously absent.
Yet, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani delayed voting in the province by a week, purportedly in accords with the will of the people as they mourn a celebrated local, creating an interesting juxtaposition of messaging when it comes to provincial and national-level politics, and where the Afghan people fit into it. Never mind the Taliban which has since claimed credit for killing “the notorious police chief,” though local media reported that the shooter was a member of the provincial governor’s security detail.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis called Raziq’s death “the loss of a patriot.”
We let the hero #GeneralRaziq rest in peace. There was no state minister, no national leaders, only friends,family & tens of 1000s supporters from across #Afghanistan. He deserved a state funeral! Our commander in chief has no respect for his brave men. pic.twitter.com/h0CX93IVu3
— Sami Sadat (@SayedSamiSadat) October 19, 2018
The Taliban referred to Raziq as a “brutal police chief” and are urging voters to boycott the poll, adding more complication to who did what and why. Was the voting delay an appeasement to the Taliban? Was the target Raziq or was he just a mid-range one with a farther one downrange, purposed to undermine the legitimacy of the secular Afghan government and its elections process?
The latter gets particular traction considering that women were on the ballot as well as secular-minded younger candidates whose election could make it more difficult for the Taliban to get the “negotiation” outcome it wants of having an Islamic-ruling government.
After all, the assassination attack comes in the wake of difficult, unenthusiastic and perhaps impossible negotiations between the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Taliban, which rejects the legitimacy of the Afghan government, has been rather dragged to the negotiation tables by the rise of the Islamic State into Afghanistan establishing a rivalry for popular support. An additional side effect of the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) is that the Taliban has moderated its demands for an “immediate” U.S. withdrawal if only because the U.S. presence (and coalition attacks targeting the local Islamic State affiliate) is helping stem the rise of their terrorist competition and related defections from their own group.
But, if the Islamic State in Afghanistan is less competitive – such as in the wake of the Aug. 26 coalition airstrike that killed its leader, Abu Saaed Erhabi – will the Taliban retrograde from its “moderate” pretenses? That question remains unanswered, at least for now. In the interim, the president of Afghanistan will be continuing his efforts to play them against each other, and from a rather precarious perch at that. More “mixed messages” like that of Raziq’s funeral attendance, or lack thereof, and indirect attacks on the electoral process via high-profile assassinations and ensuing delays and disruptions of the vote should surprise no one.