The murder of Malik Agha Jan, a prominent tribal chief in Zabol province, in the southern Afghanistan Pashtun heartlands, is the latest in a series of killings of prominent Karzai supporters by resurgent Taliban forces.
In recent days, fighting has flared on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, with US, Afghan and Pakistani forces claiming they have killed as many as 60 Taliban insurgents and their Islamic militant allies over the past four days.
Women and children were also killed alongside militants in a Pakistani army operation at the weekend in the tribal area of North Waziristan, just across the border from Afghanistan.
The murder of Agha Jan is a sign of how far the situation has deteriorated in in recent months and how emboldened the Taliban have become. A vital ally of President Karzai in the battle against the resurgent Taliban, he was abducted along with his two sons, a brother and two nephews from his home on Friday.
His relatives were released unharmed but Agha Jan's body was later found. Abdul Latif Hakimi, a Taliban spokesman, said he was killed because he was an American spy.
The Afghan army and US-led forces said they had killed 20 Taliban insurgents and Islamic militants in Khost province yesterday. While across the border in Pakistan, at least 17 people were killed in a gun battle between Pakistani soldiers and militants, among them women and children.
The fighting broke out after militants tried to flee in two cars when Pakistani soldiers began searching a compound near Miran Shah, the main town in North Waziristan. The Pakistani army said gunmen in the cars opened fire on troops and threw grenades at them, killing one soldier.
An official statement said "a few females and young members" were killed in the battle but one unnamed military source told reporters yesterday that of the dead, 15 were women and children and only two men.
The Pakistani army said the militants had used women and children as human shields, and that some women had joined in the fighting. But the deaths of women and children could provoke an explosive reaction in North Waziristan, renowned even in Afghanistan for the ferocity of its tribesmen, and where the Pakistani army does not usually venture and Pakistani law does not apply.
The fighting on both sides of the border comes after insurgents attacked an Afghan army base in Khost province with a rocket, killing one Afghan soldier. The insurgents fled over the border into Pakistan where they believed they would be safe from US-led forces. But US helicopters and artillery fired on them, killing at least 24.Reuse content