KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The police chief of Kandahar province, General Abdul Raziq Achakzai, was killed in a Thursday evening Taliban-claimed attack.
According to sources, a gunman, believed to be part of the security detail at the meeting in the provincial governor’s office, opened fire on Raziq at the conclusion of the gathering. The shots led to a gun battle in the compound that residents of the Southern province also reported hearing.
The provincial governor, the provincial intelligence chief, and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, were also in attendance at the meeting. In an address to the nation Thursday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani confirmed the death of Raziq and the intelligence chief, Momin Hassankhil, saying they have been “martyred.”
Ghani went on to say that all Afghans express their condolences and grief to the people of Kandahar.
Abdullah Abdullah, the chief executive of the national unity government, also expressed his condolences for the death of Raziq and Hassankhil. In a tweet, Abdullah said, “Deeply saddened by the demise of a great patriot, close friend & hero of war against terrorism Gen. Abdul Raziq & Chief of NDS Gen Momin Hassankhail. We strongly condemn this terrorist attack & stand united in our unshaken resolve to fight terrorism. The struggle continues.”
Deeply saddened by the demise of a great patriot, close friend & hero of war against terrorism Gen. Abdul Raziaq & Chief of NDS Gen Momin Hassankhail. We strongly condemn this terrorist attack & stand united in our unshaken resolve to fight terrorism. The struggle continues. pic.twitter.com/DUd7whyJ6q
— Dr. Abdullah (@afgexecutive) October 18, 2018
A dark day! Shocked & heartbroken by the demise of close friend, great patriot & national hero Gen Abdul Raziq who single-handedly restored stability to to a volatile Kandahar and the greater south – May he rest in eternal peace! pic.twitter.com/yRbRpXacY3
— Dr Omar Zakhilwal (@DrOmarZakhilwal) October 18, 2018
In a statement, U.S. officials said Miller was unhurt, but that three other Americans were injured in the attack. The Taliban said the “brutal commander” Raziq, who was known for his hardline anti-Taliban stance, was the primary target of the attack.
The attack comes two days before the nation’s parliamentary elections and a day after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a bombing that led to the death of Abdul Jabbar Qahraman, a former communist general who was also known for anti-Taliban stance. Jabbar was campaigning for one of Helmand’s parliamentary seats at the time of his death.
— Omaid Sharifi (@OmaidSharifi) October 18, 2018
Oh boy, here we go. All bets are off in southern Afghanistan.
Kandahar is one of the few stable provinces left. Raziq was one of the few people in govt able to maintain security (ahem: also an atrocious human rts abuser). His death is deeply destabilising for the entire country. https://t.co/htCPwrORdl
— Ashley Jackson (@a_a_jackson) October 18, 2018
The deaths not only put the possibility of Kandahar’s participation in Saturday’s polls into question, but also raise major concerns about the security of the southern province, an issue Ghani raised in his address, by saying that the ministers of defense and interior, along with the chief of intelligence, have been dispatched to the southern province.
Graeme Smith, a consultant for the International Crisis Group, who spent much time in Kandahar, told ThinkProgress via email, “This hits the Afghan security forces like an earthquake in the south, where Raziq was the central pillar of pro-government forces. He was the most powerful man in the south and his absence has the potential to redraw the battle lines.”
Since he rose to the rank of police chief in 2011, Raziq has been credited with securing Afghanistan’s second-largest city. However, like many strongmen in the nation, Raziq was a man with a complicated, controversial legacy.
Gen Raziq visited TOLOnews in his last trip to Kabul just two weeks ago & signed a book of condolences for our recent losses and said that ‘Afghanistan’s road to peace & prosperity requires sacrifices’. pic.twitter.com/kUFelbQFeK
— Lotfullah Najafizada (@LNajafizada) October 18, 2018
“Some of Raziq’s reputation was built on fear. His own men were scared of him, and some rural communities will celebrate his death,” said Smith.
The charismatic 39-year-old lieutenant general was seen as a fierce opponent of the Taliban and worked to bring safety to the southern city, but his tenure was also racked with accusations of torture, assassinations, and forced disappearances. The reports were so prevalent that, in 2017, a United Nations torture committee named Raziq directly when asking about the nation’s efforts to curb the practice.
The question came from reports of what the committee said were practices that included: “suffocation, crushing the testicles, water forcibly pumped in the stomach and electric shocks.”
That same year, Human Rights Watch labeled him “Kandahar’s Torturer-in-Chief.”
The most notorious case against Raziq dates back to March 2006 when he was implicated in the murders of more than a dozen people. Raziq was accused of orchestrating the drugging of 16 people at a party in Kabul before having them abducted and brought to Spin Boldak district of Kandahar, where he reportedly took part in the shootings that killed them.
Raziq denied the charges that he killed the men. He instead claimed that he had intercepted and killed Taliban fighters near the Durand Line.
That case would plague him the rest of his life, as he moved up the ranks of the Kandahar police, eventually becoming provincial police chief in 2011. His critics often said the events of March 2006 were indicative of how he conducted his abuses, namely forced disappearances of alleged Taliban fighters.
Patricia Gossman, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, told ThinkProgress via email that Raziq and his closest senior officers “engaged in brutal tactics that included torture and enforced disappearances — sometimes targeting not only suspected Taliban supporters but others who were just in their way.”
But to many others, he was a hero, whose hardline tactics were seen as the only way to secure Kandahar. Raziq, whose father died in the fight against Soviet occupation and whose uncle was hanged by the Taliban, fled Afghanistan with his in the 1990s. They returned to the country from neighboring Pakistan in 2001, when the Taliban fell.
I cannot believe he is gone. Devastated and heartbroken. Dark day for Afg. https://t.co/3hk2jNEdo0
— Ershad Ahmadi (@ErshadAhmadi) October 18, 2018
As Raziq elevated among the ranks of the Kandahar Police, he became increasingly popular with U.S. and Canadian forces, who were stationed in the Southern province as part of the International Security Assistance Forces, as the international coalition was known at the time.
When Raziq became the police chief of Kandahar, after his predecessor had been killed in a suicide attack, NATO released a video crediting him with “taking on one of the most dangerous jobs in Afghanistan…But General Raziq is up for the fight.”
In the same video, Raziq said of the Taliban: “There are those who are destroying our country, whoever they are, we will not surrender to them. We have no choice but to defend ourselves and our country.”
This post has been updated to include comments by Patricia Gossman, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch.