KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghan soldiers botched a brazen attempt to assassinate the defense minister at the capital’s airport Saturday, while fighting in southern Afghanistan left 30 suspected militants dead, officials said.
The violence came as U.S. military commanders warned in an interview with the Associated Press that Taliban insurgents might try to disrupt the Sept. 18 legislative elections with “spectacular” assaults using car bombs and suicide attackers.
But Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the top operational commander in Afghanistan, said he was confident that enough American troops and other forces were in place to ensure the balloting succeeds.
“We are in a posture to disrupt, pre-empt and discourage enemy actions,” he said. Asked if the election would be successful, Kamiya said, “I am 100 percent confident.”
Meanwhile, a helicopter carrying Afghanistan’s army chief and three Cabinet ministers crashed and burst into flames on takeoff. All on board escaped with only minor injuries. The government called it an accident.
Nine Afghan soldiers were arrested in the attempt to shoot Defense Minister Rahim Wardak at the airport, said ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Saher Azimi.
Four bullets hit his convoy as the vehicles left the airport, but Wardak and several other ministers had gotten out, he said. One bullet hit “the exact place where the defense minister had been sitting in the car,” and a ministry staffer was wounded, Azimi said.
“It is clear that it was an assassination attempt on the defense minister,” he said.
The motive for the shooting was not announced. A senior government official said the soldiers were angry over a pay dispute.
Coming after last fall’s presidential ballot, the Sept. 18 election is the next key step toward democracy after a quarter-century of war. Insurgents loyal to the ousted Taliban regime have stepped up activities the past six months seeking to wreck the vote, and more than 1,200 people have died in the fighting.