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Afghan Presidential Poll Official Wounded In Ambush

A defaced electoral poster of incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul.
KABUL (Reuters) -- A campaign official working for a leading challenger in next month's Afghanistan presidential poll has been wounded in a Taliban ambush, officials say, the third such attack in a week.

Mohammad Ismael, a local campaign manager for former foreign minister and presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah, was shot while driving to meet a group of supporters in Laghman Province in Afghanistan's volatile east on July 28.

Sayed Ahmad Sapai, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said one of Ismael's bodyguards was killed in the attack.

Abdullah said Ismael's injuries were not life-threatening. "He's in hospital now," Abdullah told Reuters.

Abdullah is one of two leading challengers to President Hamid Karzai in the August 20 presidential poll.

Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the Taliban's ouster in 2001, is a clear front-runner ahead of Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani.

The election is being fought against a backdrop of increased violence across Afghanistan, with thousands of U.S. Marines and British troops launching major operations in southern Helmand early this month.

Abdullah said another of his campaign officials had been killed in an attack in northern Kapisa Province early this month.

Abdullah was a close aide to Ahmed Shah Mas'ud, the widely revered Tajik rebel leader who fought Soviet troops and the Taliban until he was assassinated in 2001.

On July 26, Karzai's senior vice-presidential running mate, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, escaped unhurt from an ambush by Taliban gunmen while he was campaigning in northern Konduz Province.

On July 22, presidential candidate Mullah Salam Rocketi, a former Taliban commander who renounced the insurgency, survived a similar ambush in northern Baghlan.

Attacks by insurgents had already hit their worst levels since 2001 and have escalated further since the Helmand offensives were launched began.

The operations are the first under U.S. President Barack Obama's new strategy to defeat the Taliban and its Islamist allies and stabilize Afghanistan.