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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Deepening crisis feared after Taliban bomb kills Afghanistan general

Death of General Mohammed Daud Daud sparks worries of further unrest in troubled country, where security forces were united under northern police commander.

KABUL // The Taliban's assassination of a top Afghan general could threaten to plunge Afghanistan's north into deeper crisis, analysts and officials here say.

General Mohammed Daud Daud, 41, a regional police commander and once Afghanistan's most powerful anti-drug czar, was killed when a suicide bomber dressed in an Afghan military uniform blew himself up at a high-level meeting between Afghan and Nato officials at the provincial governor's compound in Taloqan, the capital of northern Takhar province.

The provincial police chief and two German Nato soldiers were also killed. Nato's top commander for northern Afghanistan, Major General Markus Kneip, as well as the Takhar governor, Abdul Jabar Taqwa, were injured in the blast.

The attack bears the hallmark of an emboldened Taliban insurgency in the Afghan north, where militants have played on the Afghan government's unpopularity to make inroads into previously secure provinces. The Taliban traditionally hold sway in the east and south.

But the death of Daud, a native of Takhar, who had a long history of battling both the Russians and Taliban fighters in the north, may kick-off an unravelling of the loose networks of security forces and militiamen built up under his control.

General Daud, a former aide to revered the Afghan mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, took command of police forces in eight provinces in Afghanistan's north in 2010.

He is largely credited with having brought a semblance of security to volatile northern provinces such as Kunduz and Baghlan.

The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, an organisation that monitors violence against aid workers, labels Baghlan, Kunduz and Takhar as only "moderately insecure" in their quarterly report on insurgent attacks released last week.

In Takhar, insurgent attacks fell 74 per cent in the first quarter of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010, ANSO says. In Kunduz, which had previously deteriorated into one of the country's most dangerous provinces, attacks fell 42 per cent.

Joshua Foust, of the Washington-based American Security Project, wrote: "Because the ANSF [Afghan national security forces] are so reliant on personalities to be effective, Daud's murder is a serious blow to their effectiveness in the north."

General Daud had been a decisive figure in Afghan politics for decades, joining the guerrilla resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan when he was just a teenager. He later led US-backed fighters in the 2001 invasion that toppled the Taliban.

Because of his anti-Taliban stance, General Daud was awarded with a top position in the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, assuming control of Afghanistan's police as deputy minister for counter-narcotics.

Afghanistan produces 90 per cent of the world's heroin, filling the coffers of not only Taliban insurgents, but also government officials and non-Taliban drug mafias.

It was during his rule as Afghanistan's anti-drug enforcer that General Daud forged his extensive network of drug smugglers and militiamen, analysts and officials said. He tapped into this web of insurgents and traffickers in his bid to pacify the north as the area's regional police commander.

Amanullah, an Afghan police trainer in Kunduz who, like many Afghans, uses only one name, said: "Before Daud came to the north, the militias would harass people and take their things.

"Daud was able to control them, bring them under his rule. He also increased co-ordination between security officials in the provinces. He knew many commanders."

While the strategy was effective under his watch, analysts are worried his death might cause it to all fall apart.

Assadullah Shahbaz, a member of Baghlan's provincial council, said: "This attack [on General Daud] will definitely have a negative effect on security not just in Takhar, but in the entire north.

"The people no longer have confidence that they are safe. And it will be impossible to replace him. A key pillar of the Nato mission in Afghanistan rests on training Afghan police and soldiers to take charge of fending off an already robust anti-government insurgency.

Nato will hand over responsibility for security to Afghan forces in seven key areas of Afghanistan beginning in July. The city of Mazar-i-Sharif, in Balkh province, is the only region in the north slated to be transferred to Afghan security.

Despite the security gains made by General Daud in the north, not all Afghans consider him a national hero. Many locals say they despised the general as a corrupt official who worked only to strengthen his ethnic Tajik brethren.

"Daud and his men, they were mostly taking care of the Tajik fighters and commanders they had long histories with," Amanullah, the police trainer, said. "Even if someone was a good, intelligent commander, he would be ignored by Daud."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae