Taleban ambush Karzai’s brothers at massacre site

Taleban insurgents opened fire on two brothers of Afghan president Hamid Karzai as they left a memorial service for 16 villagers killed by a US soldier.

Qayum and Shah Wali Karzai and other top Afghan officials in their delegation escaped in their cars unharmed from the ambush in the country’s south yesterday.

But one Afghan soldier was hit in the head almost immediately and died, while two other Afghan army personnel were wounded in the 20-minute firefight that ensued in one of the two villages in Kandahar province where the killings had occurred two days before.

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The gunbattle came as images of the aftermath of Sunday’s killings spread across the country, and the public reaction began to build.

In the east, students staged the first significant protest in response to the killings, raising concerns about a repeat of the wave of violent demonstrations that rocked the nation after last month’s burning of Korans by troops at a US base.

The incident has also added to pressure in the US to get out of Afghanistan more quickly. Defence decretary Leon Panetta, speaking to reporters on the plane travelling to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, said the military withdrawal was still on schedule to finish by 2014.

Mr Panetta said he was awaiting plans from General John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, to bring home the remaining 23,000 US troops sent to Afghanistan during the 2009 surge. Those forces are due to leave by the end of September, cutting the US presence in the country to 68,000 troops.

Taleban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi claimed responsibility for the attack on the delegation in Panjwai district, an area considered the birthplace of the militant group. Previously, the movement had vowed to behead those responsible for the shootings.

The militants rode to the village on motorcycles, police said. They ambushed the delegation and security forces fired back, killing three militants, said General Abdul Razaq, the Kandahar police chief. Wounded Afghan army personnel included a soldier and a military prosecutor.