As the fight against the Taliban and ISIS wears on in Afghanistan, the country’s major cities have been struck with a fresh pestilence: the targeted killings of government officials, journalists, and prominent Afghan leaders. Now, the Taliban have added to its tally the murder of an Afghan National Army helicopter pilot, Massoud Atal. Atal, a member of the 205th Corps, was murdered in broad daylight by unidentified gunmen in the PD14 district of Kandahar, the country’s second-largest city. 

According to a report from TOLO News and several other accounts on Twitter, Atal was gunned down by men on motorcycles inside the city limits in what the National Directorate of Security (NDS) is all but certain was a targeted killing. 

Atal’s murder comes just days after former NDS chief and current Interior Minister Masoud Andarabi identified the threat of these targeted killings as an attempt by the Taliban “to create a gap between the government and the people.”

Afghan pilot Massoud Atal murdered in targeted killing by Taliban
Massoud Atal. Officials at the 205th Atal Corps confirmed that Massoud Atal, a military pilot, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in PD14 of Kandahar city on Wednesday afternoon. (TOLO News)

Andarabi had addressed the Afghan Senate on Tuesday, December 29th, referencing the growing threat of these targeted killings and reasserting the position that they are being carried out by the Taliban. 

“The Taliban is seeking leverage in the peace efforts by putting pressure on the government with IED bombings in Kabul and by launching attacks in districts,” he said. 

He went on to say that interrogations of apprehended individuals reveal that the Taliban have formed a new group of assassins whose primary objective is the targeted killing of prominent Afghan civilians and military members. 

“The people who were arrested over the targeted killings have confessed that a group was created by the Taliban under the name of ‘Obaida’ in Logar province to target government employees, journalists and civil society activists to raise the people’s voice against the government,” Andarabi said on Tuesday. 

National Directorate of Security Chief General Zia Saraj, who addressed the Senate alongside Andarabi, corroborated the minister’s assessment. He reported that “over 18,200” insurgent attacks have occurred in the last 10 months, “99 percent of them by the Taliban.”