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Attacks rock Afghanistan

Sherzai, left, and Karzai walk through crowd before Thursday's shooting attack.
Sherzai, left, and Karzai walk through crowd before Thursday's shooting attack.  

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- New fears of political instability are shaking Afghanistan after an assassination attempt on the president and two car bomb attacks on the capital city.

President Hamid Karzai escaped Thursday's attack by a lone gunman wearing the uniform of the new Afghan army.

Witnesses reported hearing dozens of shots in an exchange that left the gunman and one of the president's bodyguards dead and Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai and a U.S. Special Forces soldier lightly wounded.

A news photograph of the scene showed three bodies on the ground after the clash.

The shooting in Kandahar happened hours after two explosions rocked the center of the Afghan capital, Kabul, killing at least 26 people and injuring 150 others. (Full story)

Speaking to reporters about the failed assassination attempt, Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah said that Karzai was leaving the governor's house when a uniformed, armed person appeared in front of their car and opened fire.

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U.S. Special Forces soldiers, which provide security for Karzai, fired back, killing the gunman instantly.

Two other men near the gunman also were killed, but it was not immediately clear if they died in the crossfire or were shot by the gunman. One of those who died was a Karzai bodyguard, a top Afghan official said.

A witness within the president's entourage said Karzai was walking with Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai outside the palace when shots rang out.

Sherzai, a member of the ethnic Pashtun tribe and a supporter of the Karzai government, was wounded by a bullet that grazed his neck. He has a security detail and there was an increased amount of security in Kandahar because Karzai was there.

Sherzai was treated and released at a medical facility at the Kandahar Air Base. As he left the main airport terminal building, he smoked a cigarette, then got in a vehicle and was whisked away.

The wounded Special Forces soldier was in stable condition at a medical facility in the region, the U.S. Central Command said.

Karzai, who was in town to attend the wedding of his younger brother, was whisked to safety after the shooting. (Karzai profile)

Several international leaders have offered their support for Karzai following Thursday's violence, and U.S. diplomats say they are confident the Karzai government can prevail in the face of such attacks.

A State Department official confirmed there are plans for Karzai's security detail to change hands this month from U.S. Special Forces to Diplomatic Security forces.

The official said "it would be speculative and premature" to consider whether those plans would be changed in light of the shooting.

U.S. Special Forces soldiers assigned to guard Karzai react after shooting.
U.S. Special Forces soldiers assigned to guard Karzai react after shooting.  

The representative said "U.S. officials are just gathering information now to try to determine what happened on the ground. It is unclear."

The official said this transfer is taking place because diplomatic security personnel specialize in issues particular to diplomats, and the security forces will be in Afghanistan in part to train Afghan diplomatic security to eventually take over the job of protecting Karzai.

"We're not leaving," said President Bush, who was informed of the incident upon arriving in Louisville, Kentucky, to speak at a rally. "We want to help democracy flourish in that region."

"The White House is looking into what happened. That obviously the President is relieved that President Karzai is safe. The two are expected to meet next week in New York at the United Nations meetings," said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility in the blast or the assassination attempt.

It was the second time in recent months authorities have thwarted an attempt to kill the new Afghan president. At the end of July, officials said they thwarted an assassination attempt against Karzai. They said they found a car filled with explosives.

There also have been several assassinations and failed assassinations of other officials of the new government. (Full story)

-- CNN's Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report




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