KABUL - A suicide bomber assassinated an Afghan provincial governor yesterday, as Nato said it killed almost 100 more Taleban fighters in its biggest offensive against the resurgent Islamist group.
Governor Hakim Taniwal, a former mines minister who once lectured in an Australian university, is the first provincial chief killed since the Taleban fell five years ago, although there have been many assassinations attempts around the country.
His driver also died when the bomber threw himself on the governor of Paktia province, bordering Pakistan, as he was entering his car, police said.
The killing came as Nato said its forces and Afghan soldiers killed 94 Taleban insurgents in a battle in the southern province of Kandahar, the Taleban's heartland, in its biggest offensive against the rejuvenated Islamist movement.
Backed by close air support, the militants were killed in two areas of Kandahar in four encounters that started on Saturday and lasted until just after dawn yesterday, Nato said in a statement.
Nato did not say if there were any casualties among Nato or Afghan forces in the fighting in Zari and Panjwai districts.
Nato has encountered heavier-than-expected fighting since taking over southern Afghanistan from US-led troops on July 31 to allow Washington to reduce its forces.
If true, the latest casualties would bring to more than 400 the number of Taleban killed since Nato launched Operation Medusa just over a week ago.
Fighting worst since 2001
The Taleban, which has dismissed Nato's casualty figures in Operation Medusa as propaganda, also rejected the latest toll.
"They are lying. If their figure was true, then they would have driven the Taleban from Panjwai and Zari by now," Qari Mohammad Yousuf, a Taleban spokesman, said by satellite phone from an undisclosed location.
Yousuf said he had no information if the Taleban, who are usually behind suicide attacks, killed the governor.
About 20 Nato soldiers have been killed in the offensive, 14 of them British troops whose plane crashed in the opening hours.
Panjwai and adjacent Zari, flat, desert areas, lie southwest of Kandahar city and have been the scene of a series of battles between foreign forces and the Taleban this year.
Afghanistan is wracked by the worst bloodshed since the Taleban's ouster.
Defence chiefs from Nato's 26 nations agreed on Saturday they needed more troops and fewer limitations on the use of their forces to step up the fight against the Taleban.
But despite demands from commanders on the ground, they made no pledges of extra troops after two days of talks in Warsaw.
Nato officials said national defence chiefs had agreed to consult with their capitals on reinforcements.
They will meet again on Wednesday at Nato military headquarters in Mons, southern Belgium, for a so-called force generation conference aimed at matching the call by alliance commanders for between 2000 and 2500 extra troops.
Military commanders and analysts say the daily offensives by the Taleban and allies such as al Qaeda are now deadlier than the fighting in Iraq.