The Taliban ambushed and killed the director of Afghanistan's government media center on Friday in the capital, Kabul, the latest killing of a government official just days after an assassination attempt on the country's acting defense minister.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told The Associated Press that the insurgents killed Dawa Khan Menapal, the chief of the Afghan government’s press operations for local and foreign media. He had previously been a deputy spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
The assassination took place during weekly Friday prayers in Kabul, according to the Interior Ministry's deputy spokesman. After the shooting, Afghan forces fanned out across the neighborhood where Menapal was gunned down while riding in his car. Mujahid put out a statement claiming responsibility and said Menapal “was killed in a special attack” by the mujahedeen, or holy warriors.
The Taliban often target government officials and those they perceive as working for the government or foreign forces, though several recent attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State group. The government most often holds the Taliban responsible.
The slaying comes amid significant Taliban advances. In a major but symbolic victory, the Taliban on Friday appeared to have taken their first provincial capital — the city of Zaranj in southern Nimroz province. The government, however, claimed there was still fierce fighting around key infrastructure in the city and that Zaranj had not fallen.
The Taliban have been surging for months in Afghanistan, taking swaths of land as U.S. and NATO forces complete their final pullout from the country by the end of the month. The battles intensified lately as the Taliban laid siege to provincial capitals in southern and western Afghanistan, after capturing district after district and even seizing several key border crossings.
More than half of Afghanistan's 421 districts and district centers are now in Taliban hands. While many of the districts are in remote regions, some are deeply strategic, giving the Taliban control of lucrative border crossings with Iran, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
The bitter fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of Afghans, now living in miserable conditions in improvised shelters and makeshift camps in the southern, desert-like environment — brutally hot days and cold nights. Inside the cities where fighting is underway, thousands are trapped and unable to move from their homes.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.