KABUL, Afghanistan – Turban bombs had become too obvious. So the two men who apparently set out Saturday to assassinate Kandahar’s governor looked to their footwear instead.
The assailants used the unusual tactic of concealing weapons and explosives in their boots to make their way past police checkpoints and into the governor’s heavily guarded compound in the city of Kandahar, leading to a gun battle that left them and two Afghan police officers dead, a provincial spokesman said.
Witnesses said American forces were present during the clash in the southern province, which is the birthplace of the Taliban, and that one of the U.S. troops was injured. The NATO force did not immediately disclose any information about U.S. involvement.
Insurgents have made many attempts on the life of Kandahar’s U.S.-educated governor, Tooryalai Wesa, but this appeared to be a closer brush than most, with the attackers managing to make it as far as his reception area. Wesa told reporters later that he and his guests were hustled out of his office and into an adjoining room while the battle was going on.
The governor’s office said it was the ninth attempt to assassinate Wesa, who was unhurt.
Insurgents have killed dozens of government officials in Kandahar province in an effort to intimidate those allied with the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The Taliban claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack.
Searches of people entering government complexes became more thorough after two high-profile assassinations last year – of the mayor of Kandahar city and the head of the country’s High Peace Council – in which the attackers concealed explosives in their bulky turbans.
To the chagrin of some who are bald beneath their headgear, men now sometimes are asked to remove turbans when passing through security checks at sensitive sites. Unlike in U.S. airports, however, people generally don’t remove boots and shoes in the course of such searches.
Ahmad Faisal Jawad, a spokesman for the governor, said the attack began about 11:15 a.m., after the assailants were waved through police barricades surrounding the compound. Once inside, they opened fire with pistols they had concealed in their boots, killing two policemen during a 20-minute battle, which ended when the attackers were gunned down, he said.