Taliban gunmen on Friday assassinated Dawa Khan Menapal, chief media and information officer for the government of Afghanistan, while he was driving west of Kabul.
Menapal, a former radio journalist from Zabul province in southern Afghanistan, served as deputy spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani from 2016 to 2020 before taking charge of the Government Media and Information Center (GMIC).
Menapal was an outspoken critic of both the Taliban and the government of Pakistan. One of his last public statements was condemning the Taliban for murdering comedian Nazar Mohammad, who performed under the name Khasha Zwan.
According to witnesses, Menapal was gunned down while driving home from a mosque west of Kabul after Friday prayers.
A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the murder soon afterward, stating Menapal was “killed in a special attack of Mujahideen (holy warriors) and was punished for his deeds.”
“He was a young man who stood like a mountain in the face of enemy propaganda, and who was always a major supporter of the regime,” the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement on Menapal’s death.
U.S. Charge d’Affaires for Kabul Ross Wilson said the United States is “saddened and disgusted by the Taliban’s targeted killing of Dawa Khan Meenapal, a friend and colleague, whose career was focused on providing truthful information to all Afghans.”
“These murders are an affront to Afghans’ human rights and freedom of speech,” said Wilson.
The Taliban also tried to assassinate Afghanistan’s acting Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi with a car bomb on Wednesday, injuring at least 20 people but missing their target and his family, who were not at home during the attack. Taliban fighters also entered the office of lawmaker Azim Mohseni during the incident and might have been trying to kill him as well, but he also was not present.
The Taliban captured its first provincial capital on Friday, the city of Zaranj in the southern province of Nimroz.
Officials in Kabul claimed the city is still fiercely contested by government forces, but the Taliban posted photos on social media showing their fighters in control of the city gates and local airport.
Provincial governor Abdul Karim Barhawi said the city has fallen, prompting him to seek refuge with the local ethnic Baloch community.
The Baloch are a relatively small minority in Afghanistan and other neighboring countries — somewhat analogous to, and possibly related to, the Kurds of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey — with a reputation as dauntless fighters and a history of animosity for the Taliban, who tried to ethnically cleanse them when the Taliban were last in power.