Senior policewoman shot dead in former Taliban stronghold

• Officer led department of crimes against females
• Afghan president and EU condemn killing in car

Two gunmen shot dead a high-ranking female police official in Afghanistan yesterday, amid growing fears for the safety of women working in the country.

Malalai Kakar was killed in her car in Kandahar city where she had resumed her job as an officer after US-led forces in 2001 overthrew the Taliban government, which had barred women from most outdoor work.

Zalmai Ayubi, spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, said Kakar's son, 18, was also wounded in the attack.

Kakar, 41, was the head of the department of crimes against women in Kandahar city, Ayubi said, and had led many police house searches in Kandahar leading to the seizure of arms and drugs.

Militants frequently attack projects, schools and businesses run by women. The Taliban regime did not allow women outside the home without a male escort.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the assassination, as did the EU.

"Any murder of a police officer is to be condemned, but the killing of a female officer whose service was not only to her country, but to Afghan women, to whom Ms Kakar served as an example, is particularly abhorrent," an EU statement said.

Kakar's killing comes amid escalation of violence in Afghanistan this year, the bloodiest period since US-led troops overthrew Taliban's government. Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence.

Yesterday, an Afghan police official said a US-led coalition killed three civilians in an operation apparently targeting a suicide cell in eastern Afghanistan. That claim was disputed by the coalition, which said its troops killed two al-Qaida militants.

Gen Abdul Jalal Jalal, the provincial police chief in the eastern province of Kunar, said airstrikes hit a compound in the province's Asmar district, killing three civilians.

The US-led coalition claimed its troops targeted an al-Qaida cell responsible for a number of bomb attacks in Kunar province.

The coalition said two militants were killed after a firefight in one of the compounds. It said no civilians were killed. Scott Miller, a US spokesman, said artillery strikes were used but no airstrikes.

It was impossible to independently verify either report, due to the remoteness of the area.

Civilian deaths are a highly sensitive topic in Afghanistan. Karzai has long pleaded with international troops to avoid civilian deaths in its operations.

The Afghan government and the UN say that on August 22 a US operation killed some 90 civilians in the western province of Herat, a strike that strained US-Afghan relations.

An original US investigation found that up to 35 militants and seven civilians were killed in that strike. However, a new investigation has been opened after video images emerged and appeared to show many more dead than the US had acknowledged.

The coalition said separately that it killed six militants and detained eight in two operations last Saturday.

Agencies in Kabul

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