KABUL, Afghanistan -- A Taliban suicide bomber tried to assassinate the influential new chief of Afghanistan's intelligence service at an agency guesthouse in Kabul on Thursday, officials said, in a brazen attack that left him seriously wounded and underscored the insurgency's ability to go after those at the highest levels of the government.
The attack -- against Asadullah Khalid, who had just taken over the National Directorate of Security in September -- has sidelined a man who had emerged as one of the insurgency's fiercest opponents, as well as an implacable critic of Pakistan.
In his short time at the reins, Mr. Khalid had stepped up clandestine operations against the Taliban's middle- and upper-level leadership, according to Afghan and coalition officials. He has also put his agency at the forefront of Afghan and Western efforts to clamp down on the killings of coalition troops by Afghan soldiers and the police, some of which have been attributed to Taliban infiltration.
The National Directorate of Security said in a statement that Mr. Khalid had survived a "cowardly terrorist attack." It offered no details, but his wounds appeared substantial: Afghan and Western officials with knowledge of his condition said that he had sustained injuries to his chest and abdomen. One Afghan official said that he arrived bleeding and unconscious at a hospital run by the intelligence service.
President Hamid Karzai, who is close to Mr. Khalid, visited him soon after the attack and said in a statement that his condition was improving.
Mr. Khalid was later flown to Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, said Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the coalition. The move was made to take advantage of the better medical facilities available at Bagram, one of the largest coalition bases in Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in an e-mail sent to the news media. Some Afghan officials, aware of Mr. Khalid's public criticism of Pakistan's ambitions and influence in Afghanistan, voiced suspicions that Pakistani interests may have approved of the attack -- a frequent, though mostly unprovable, pattern of blame after high-profile attacks here in recent years.
The attack took place in the Kabul neighborhood of Taimani, an upscale district that is home to many foreigners, inside one of the guesthouses that Mr. Khalid and the intelligence directorate use, according to two Western officials.
Mr. Khalid, an ethnic Pashtun from Kandahar Province who has long been close to the Karzai family, became a favorite of Western intelligence officials because of his anti-Taliban record, first as governor of Kandahar and then as the minister of border and tribal affairs.
Neighbors on the street where the bombing happened on Thursday, between 2:15 p.m. and 3 p.m., said that it was not a large explosion, but somewhat muffled, and that it appeared to have taken place inside the guesthouse.
Western and Afghan officials said that Mr. Khalid had been meeting there with the head of Department 24, which deals with borders and extraterritorial activities.
That the attack occurred inside the house suggested to some officials that whoever carried it out was trusted enough to enter without being thoroughly searched. Such a tactic would be similar to the one used in the September 2011 assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president and the head of the High Peace Council, whose assassin was said to be a courier bringing an important message from the Taliban leadership and thus gained entrance to the house. The bomb, hidden in his turban, detonated within a few feet of Mr. Rabbani.
One neighbor who lives a few houses away from the guesthouse said that Mr. Khalid frequently visited there, arriving alone with his driver in an armored vehicle. The man, who refused to give his name, said that Mr. Khalid always greeted his neighbors if they were on the street, shaking their hands.
It was not clear whether anyone was killed in the attack or whether other people were wounded.
Mr. Khalid has many enemies as well as admirers, and he was accused of human-rights abuses during his time as governor of Kandahar, leading some Afghans and diplomats to raise objections about his elevation to intelligence chief. However, the potential for an intensified Taliban threat in many areas of the south and east as the Western combat mission deadline nears led many in the Afghan Parliament to agree to his appointment.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.