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Afghan Pilot Gunned Down in Kandahar

FILE - An Afghan Commando stands guard while an Afghan Air Force helicopter flies past during a combat training exercise in the Afghan province of Helmand, Aug. 27, 2017. An Afghan air force pilot was gunned down Dec. 30, 2020, in Kandahar.

An Afghan air force pilot was gunned down Wednesday in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.

Police confirmed to VOA the killing of a member of the military but did not share any other details.

A security source, who did not want to be named, said Massoud Atal, a military helicopter pilot, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen roughly a kilometer away from the governor's house on Wednesday.

Atal was a resident of Kandahar and was trained in the Czech Republic and the United Arab Emirates.

No group has claimed responsibility for the pilot's death.

Targeted killings, especially of journalists and activists, have been on the rise in Afghanistan recently. At least five journalists have been killed in the country in the last two months.

On Tuesday, Afghan Interior Minister Massoud Andarabi blamed the increase in attacks on the Taliban.

Briefing the Afghan Senate, Andarabi said suspects arrested in relation to the recent killings have revealed that the Taliban has created a cell to target people such as journalists, government employees, and civil society activists.

The killings are taking place just as the Taliban is set to begin a second round of peace talks with an Afghan government-sanctioned negotiating team in Doha on January 5, 2021.

The two teams agreed upon the code of conduct in the first round and will start negotiating the agenda of the talks. The government side is expected to demand that a cease-fire, or a significant reduction in violence, be the top agenda item.

The Taliban have resisted announcing a cease-fire.