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Kandahar governor escapes assassination

His convoy is hit in southern Afghanistan and a guard is injured. In his Eid holiday address, President Karzai renewed his calls for insurgents to put down their arms.

November 28, 2009|By Laura King

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — The governor of a violent southern province in Afghanistan escaped assassination Friday, even as President Hamid Karzai renewed his calls to insurgents to lay down their weapons.

Kandahar Gov. Tooryalai Wesa was on his way to prayers on the first day of Eid al-Adha, the main Muslim holiday of the year, when a remote-controlled bomb exploded under his convoy. Wesa was uninjured, but a policeman helping guard him was hurt, the governor's office said.

The province is home to Afghanistan's second-largest city, also called Kandahar, which is the country's southern hub and a key battleground. Next week, the Obama administration is expected to announce the deployment of tens of thousands more American troops.Many of them will be sent to the province, birthplace of the Taliban movement and the scene of heavy fighting in recent months.

Last month was the most lethal of the 8-year-old war for American troops, with nearly 60 U.S. service members killed.

In a message to mark the start of Eid al-Adha, Karzai appealed again to insurgents to give up the fight and join pro-government forces.

"To all our brothers who stand armed against the country, I hope that for the sake of peace, stability and development, they return to the national fold and to their families," said the Afghan leader, who was sworn in last week for a second five-year term.

Karzai mentioned by name major militant factions, including the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami, a large militia led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a mujahedin commander during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s.

Karzai's call for reconciliation came two days after Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban supreme leader, declared in his Eid message that the insurgents would not bow to Western or government forces. Omar urged his compatriots and the rest of the world to sever ties with Karzai's "puppet" government.

Western officials in recent weeks have expressed greater willingness than previously to "reintegrate" fighters who lay down their weapons, as a possible prelude to higher-level negotiations with the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

That openness to talks with certain elements of the Taliban is expected to figure in President Obama's war strategy, which is to be unveiled Tuesday.

The Obama administration believes that certain Taliban figures are ideologically unwilling to give up their struggle against the U.S., but that some lower-level commanders and foot soldiers would prefer to abandon the fight, perhaps in exchange for job opportunities and if they're given amnesty for previous attacks on Western forces.

laura.king@latimes.com

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