The Taliban killed the head of the government’s media center by shooting him near a mosque in Kabul on Friday, days after the movement warned that it would target senior officials in response to the intense aerial bombardment against its members.
The assassination of the figure, who is among the most prominent voices in the government, came after another day that witnessed bloody battles in Afghanistan, while the war extends to Kabul for the first time in months.
It also comes hours before an upcoming meeting of the UN Security Council in New York to discuss the conflict.
“Unfortunately, the savage terrorists committed yet another cowardly act and killed a patriotic Afghan,” Interior Ministry Spokesman Mirwais Stanekzai said when talking about the killing of Dawa Khan Minapal.
Menapal was well known in the narrow media circles in Kabul and often mocked the Taliban on social media, at times joking.
Former presidential spokesman Seddik Siddiqi said he was “completely shocked and devastated”.
“We lost another great soul,” he added.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for his killing, as its spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, sent a message to the media saying that Minabal was “killed in a special attack carried out by the Mujahideen.”
The insurgents warned Wednesday that they were preparing to target Afghan government leaders, a day after Defense Minister Bismillah Mohammadi survived an assassination attempt with a bomb and gunfire.
The Afghan and US armies intensified their aerial bombardment as part of their battle against the insurgents in several cities, while the Taliban confirmed Wednesday that the Kabul attack came in response to targeting them.
Fighting has intensified in the Afghanistan conflict since May, when foreign forces began the final stages of their withdrawal, due to be completed later this month.
The Taliban currently controls large parts of the countryside, while it has become a challenge to government forces in the capitals of several states.
Government forces continue to target Taliban positions by air and by operations carried out by special forces. On Friday, the Defense Ministry announced that more than 400 rebels had been killed in the past 24 hours.
Both sides often exaggerate the numbers of casualties announced by both sides, which makes verifying the numbers almost impossible.
But even as Afghan officials have declared that they are inflicting heavy casualties on the Taliban, government forces have so far not succeeded in driving the insurgents out of the provincial capitals they have entered while hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee in recent weeks.
Videos of the destruction inflicted by the fighting in the southern city of Lashkar Gah fill social media, while leaflets of flames are seen rising from an area that includes a major market.
Action Against Hunger group said in a statement Friday that its offices were hit by an “air bomb” that fell in the city earlier this week.
The organization said, “There were signs visible from the street and the ceiling on the building indicating that it belongs to a non-governmental organization, and the parties to the conflict were repeatedly provided with the location of the office,” stressing that none of its employees were injured.
In the western city of Herat, residents are leaving their homes in preparation for an upcoming attack by government forces on Taliban-controlled positions.
“We have completely evacuated the place. We have nothing left and we don’t know where to go,” said Ahmed Dia, who lives in the west of the city.