Gunmen Abduct Afghan Deputy Minister in Kabul

Minister of Public Works Ahmad Shah Wahid speaking during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Gunmen abducted the Afghan deputy public works minister in Kabul on Tuesday, officials said, a grim reminder of the insecurity plaguing Afghanistan as most foreign troops prepare to withdraw from the country at the end of the year.

Ahmad Shah Wahid was on his way to work when five gunmen ran his car off the road in northern Kabul, dragged him into their 4-wheel-drive vehicle and sped away, said Gul Agha Hashim, the city's police chief of investigations.

The armed men shot and wounded Wahid's driver when he tried to drive away to safety, said public works ministry spokesman Soheil Kakar.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the abduction. Kakar said there has so far been no ransom demand.

Wahid, who is in his mid-50s, studied engineering and road construction in Italy and has been deputy minister for four years. Before that, he worked in the ministry overseeing road reconstruction, Kakar said.

"He is a very professional man and had no disputes with anyone," Kakar added.

Kidnappings for ransom and abductions by Taliban insurgents are relatively common in Afghanistan, but Wahid is the highest-ranking government official abducted in years.

A Taliban spokesman said by telephone that he was not aware of Tuesday's abduction but would check to see if the insurgents were involved.

Criminal gangs also target wealthy Afghans in the capital to collect ransoms, though it's impossible to know how common abductions are because most go unreported to police.

"Last year, there were more and more kidnappings in Kabul," said businessman Shoib Nawabi, who was abducted in 2008 and held for nine days before his family paid a ransom. Two months ago, he says, a friend of his was also abducted.

NATO troops have trained up a 340,000-strong national police and army force in Afghanistan to fight against the Taliban and secure the country, but day-to-day security remains a struggle.

Afghan security forces have been praised, however, for largely securing polling stations nationwide in the April 5 presidential elections that the Taliban had vowed to disrupt. Some 7 million voters braved the threat of attacks to go to the polls.

Figures released by the U.S. military on Tuesday said the insurgents launched 286 attacks around the country on election day, many of them with armed gunmen, killing 17 security forces. However, 141 Taliban were killed by police and the army.

A spike in violence had been expected on election day, but U.S. officials said the number of attacks was down 36 percent from the 2009 election.

Also Tuesday, President Hamid Karzai accused the American military of killing a woman and her two children in an airstrike in the eastern province of Khost. Karzai, who has long castigated the U.S. for civilian casualties, issued a statement saying he "strongly condemns" the deaths.

The U.S.-led military coalition said it was aware of the reports and was looking into the incident, adding that it takes all civilian casualties seriously.

Few details were available Tuesday night. Mohammad Sadiq Safi, an official in the Khost governor's office, also said that a woman and two children had been killed in a U.S. airstrike but he could not provide details of any fighting in the area or why a coalition plane would be in the area.

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