18-year-old Afghan woman slain in campaign of fear

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A gunman lying in wait shot and killed an 18-year-old woman as she left her job at a U.S.-based development company Tuesday, casting a spotlight on a stepped-up campaign of Taliban intimidation against women in this southern city where U.S. troops plan a major operation in the coming weeks.

Although there was no claim of responsibility and police said the motive for the attack was unclear, Taliban militants have been particularly harsh with women who work for foreign organizations or attend school. Bands of thugs are increasingly harassing women who want jobs, education and their own style of clothing, women and aid workers say.

In Tuesday’s attack, the gunman emerged from a hiding place and shot the woman, whose first name was Hossai, after she stepped out of her office building, said deputy police chief Fazle Ahmed Shehzad. Hossai died at the hospital, and the assailant escaped.

Hossai worked for Development Alternatives, Inc., a Washington-based global consulting firm that “provides social and economic development solutions to business, government, and civil society in developing and transitioning countries,” according to its Web site.

Eight years after the U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban from power, fear again dominates the lives of many young women and girls in the violent south, the stronghold of a revived Islamist insurgency that curbed women’s rights when it ruled most of the country until the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

While many of the threats come from the Taliban, others are from criminals and even police. Harassment of women comes against the backdrop of a general deterioration of law and order in Kandahar, a city of nearly a half million people.

The aim of the upcoming operation by NATO and Afghan troops is to clear Kandahar of Taliban fighters.