Afghanistan's Die-Hard Governor

Gov. Arsala Jamal of eastern Afghanistan's Khost Province (center, black jacket), a close ally of the U.S., cuts a ceremonial ribbon to mark the opening of a new power grid for his region, located along the border with Pakistan, in Khost, Jan. 16, 2008.
CBS/Cami McCormick
This story was written by CBS News correspondent Cami McCormick, embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's eastern Paktia and Khost provinces.

The U.S. military's key ally in Afghanistan's Khost Province is the Taliban's number one target.

"The Governor? That guys needs to watch his back," laughs a soldier who is helping provide protection for Khost Gov. Arsala Jamal at a ribbon cutting for a new power grid.

Security is very tight.

Afghan police snipers man the roofs of nearby buildings, nearby roads have been closed off to traffic and American and Afghan soldiers surround the building where the ceremony will take place. They search it thoroughly before anyone is allowed inside.

Last year, a suicide bomber in a lab coat penetrated security at the dedication for a new hospital wing in Khost, a province along eastern Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.

Gov. Jamal arrives at the last minute, rushed in by a convoy of SUVs. His Afghan security personnel prevent anyone from getting close to him as he enters the building.

Jamal has been targeted by would-be assassins three times in the past 12 months. On each occasion he has been traveling in a convoy of U.S. and Afghan military vehicles.

"They're (the enemy) definitely well organized. They get spotters to see where he is in a convoy and pass the word up that he's coming down this route and this is the vehicle he's riding in," said U.S. Army Sgt. Fred Adams, who adds he's seen the bombers counting the numbers of vehicles to their target. "They really want to get rid of the governor."



In each case, Jamal survived by switching vehicles at the last minute. Some of his Afghan security guards were not so lucky.

Jamal is one of the U.S. military's key allies in eastern Afghanistan. A former aid worker himself, he has helped promote and organize infrastructure projects that the U.S. believes are crucial to defeating the insurgency.

"He's fighting for the same thing that we want here, and that's a government that can sustain itself," Adams said.

Jamal is not the only provincial leader to be targeted by Taliban extremists. The former governor of neighboring Paktia province was assassinated last year. And the sub-governor of Tani, a border village in Khost province, recently survived an attack by a suicide bomber.

The bomber stood alongside the road as Gov. Badi Zaman made his way home from work one evening. Zaman had his driver run the bomber over. The Governor suffered a neck wound in the explosion.

Sitting in his office, surrounded by windows taped to prevent glass shrapnel from a bomb attack, Jamal won't specifically name those he believes are targeting him. "I think it's very much obvious. It is the enemy of Afghanistan."

He points out that Afghan soldiers and teachers have also been targeted. "They are exposed to the same type of danger. If everybody stopped working, what would happen? We would give the province to them."

Jamal is surrounded by dozens of body guards, who he says he has trouble paying, and he's sent his family to live in another country. Asked about his personal motivation for staying on the job, Jamal seemed surprised by the question.

"It's my country. I don't know what else to say. Someone has to do it."
By Cami McCormick