KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban suicide bomber posing as a messenger of peace blew himself up near Afghanistan's newly appointed intelligence chief on Thursday, seriously wounding him, officials said.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Asadullah Khalid — the fifth such assassination attempt on his life in as many years, the officials added.
"Thank God, he's OK. It's positive," President Hamid Karzai told reporters outside a medical facility run by the National Directorate of Security where Khalid had surgery. "Now there is hope that he'll get healthy again."
The attempted assassination of the nation's top intelligence official came just as the president described the U.S.-led military coalition as partly responsible for instability in Afghanistan.
"Part of the insecurity is coming to us from the structures that NATO and America created in Afghanistan," Karzai told NBC News in an interview broadcast on Thursday. Terrorism will not be defeated "by attacking Afghan villages and Afghan homes," he said.
Shafiqullah Tahiri, a spokesman for the intelligence service, said that the bomber had used the false peace offer as a ruse to close in on the intelligence chief.
The bombing was reminiscent of the September 2011 killing of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who at the time was the leader of a government-appointed peace council seeking reconciliation with militants. In that attack, an insurgent posing as a Taliban peace envoy detonated a bomb that was hidden in his turban as he met Rabbani at his home in Kabul.
Khalid, in his early 40s, suffered serious injuries to his stomach and lower part of the body when the bomb exploded at his guest house as he was receiving a visitor, a senior Afghan official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose the information. The intelligence chief had used the house for private meetings he preferred not to hold at his agency's official compound, he added.
The bomber passed through at least one check without the explosives being discovered, the official said. The house was not as heavily guarded as the agency's compound, he added.
Shuja Momuzai, 31, who manages a house a couple doors from Khalid's guest house, said he heard an explosion shortly after 3 p.m., after which he saw Khalid being evacuated.
He said that people in the neighborhood knew Khalid used the house, which had at least two perimeter walls.
Karzai said Khalid would be sent elsewhere for further treatment, implying that he could be transferred outside the country.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the intelligence chief was the target of a suicide bombing carried out by an attacker named Hafez Mohammad.
Khalid, who was appointed to head the intelligence service in September, comes from the Pashtun ethnic group and has served as governor of restive Ghazni province in the east and Kandahar province in the south. He is also Afghanistan's former minister of tribal and border affairs.
He says he first eluded an assassin in 2006, and bombers had targeted him 3 times since, before Thursday's attack.
Karzai, in his interview, also said that he was not convinced that al-Qaida "has a presence in Afghanistan."
While weakened in recent years, the group, whose 9/11 attacks drew America into its longest war, appears to have preserved at least limited means of regenerating inside Afghanistan as U.S. influence in the country wanes. For years the main target of U.S.-led forces has been the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan and protected al-Qaida before the U.S. invasion 11 years ago. But the strategic goal is to prevent al-Qaida from again finding sanctuary in Afghanistan from which to launch attacks on the U.S.
"I don't even know if al-Qaida exists as an organization as it is being spoken about," Karzai said. "So all we know is that we have insecurity."
In other developments, five children were killed and two others were wounded Thursday in Sangin district of Helmand province, said provincial police spokesman Fareed Ahmad. He said the children had been collecting scrap items they hoped to sell and apparently picked up a mine. The mine exploded near shops in the district, he said.
Also on Thursday, Afghan and Tajik counter-narcotics officials said a dozen suspected drug traffickers were arrested during a joint operation along the border between the two countries.
Baz Mohammad Ahmadi, Afghanistan's deputy interior minister for counter-narcotics, said Thursday that alleged ringleaders of four drug-trafficking operations in Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan and nearby areas of Tajikistan were among those arrested.
Weapons and 420 kilograms (926 pounds) of hashish, opium and heroin also were confiscated, he said. Two of the alleged traffickers were wounded in gun battles during the five-day operation.
U.S. drug officials and the NATO-led coalition lent technical support for the operation that began Dec. 1.
Ahmadi said the Afghan government plans to burn 200 metric tons (220 short tons) of drugs seized in operations this year.
Insurgents conduct targeted attacks to undermine public confidence in the government and show they remain a resilient force, despite being outmanned by Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces.
Associated Press Deb Riechmann, Heidi Vogt and Patrick Quinn contributed to this report.