AFP - Gunmen opened fire Saturday on a campaign manager for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's re-election bid, killing a guard, while one French and three US soldiers died in other insurgent attacks, officials said.
The killings fuelled concern about the security of the August 20 elections with the extremist Taliban militia demanding a boycott and insurgency-linked violence at a nearly eight-year high in the war-scarred country.
The men who opened fire on Karzai's campaign manager in the central province of Ghanzi were believed to be from the Taliban, provincial government spokesman Ismail Jahangir told AFP.
They missed their target, Fazil Ahmad, but killed one of his guards and wounded two other people, including a candidate for provincial council elections to run alongside the presidential vote.
It was the latest in a series of attacks on the elections process that have left three of the more than 3,000 provincial candidates dead.
One of Karzai's main challengers for the top job, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, complained Saturday that the government was failing to secure the elections process.
Two members of his provincial campaign teams have been killed in recent attacks and four injured, the candidate told reporters.
"It's the duty of the government to provide security not only during election campaigning but during the voting. The government has totally failed to provide security in this regard," Abdullah said.
"If the government has taken any measures to secure the elections process, it must tell the people about it so people can participate in campaigning and election day with confidence," he added.
The Taliban this week demanded a boycott of the vote, Afghanistan's second-ever presidential election, and ordered its fighters to block all roads ahead of election day to stop people from going to the polls.
The militia called on Afghans to instead take up a holy war to "free their invaded country from the invaders," it said.
Separate new insurgent attacks on Saturday killed one French and three US soldiers, the military said, in a bloody start to the month after July saw the highest death toll since 2001.
Around 230 French, US and Afghan troops came under fire in the Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul, while on an operation with Afghan troops, the French military in Afghanistan said in a statement.
"One French soldier was hit and died of the injury. Immediately the troops returned fire and counter-attacked the insurgents," it said.
"The fighting lasted one and a half hours and two other French soldiers were wounded. The insurgents eventually retreated."
Three other ISAF soldiers were killed in bomb blasts, the alliance said separately.
"Three International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) service members were killed today after their patrol was struck by two improvised explosive devices in southern Afghanistan," it said.
US military spokesman in Kabul, Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo, said the three were from the US military and had died in the province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement. He could give no details.
The United States has 62,000 troops in Afghanistan, the leading contributor to a mainly Western effort against Islamic extremists said to be plotting attacks in the West.
Seventy-five international troops were killed last month, most of them in attacks, according to the independent www.icasualties.org website.
More than 230 have lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, it says.
Thousands of mostly US soldiers were deployed in Afghanistan earlier this year to help secure Taliban strongholds in the south so that Afghans can vote in the election, the second-ever presidential vote in a turbulent history.
Many were sent as part of US President's Barack Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan, where the Taliban have gained power after being considered a spent force after their ouster in a US-led invasion in late 2001.
Authorities meanwhile continue to emphasise there will be no military solution to the dragging conflict that the United Nations says killed more than 1,000 civilians in the first six months of this year.