Two men on a motorbike gunned down an Afghan provincial official as he walked to work on Wednesday in southern Kandahar province, the police said.

The apparent assassination comes as NATO and Afghan forces move into the 12th day of a major offensive to push militants out of a Taliban stronghold in neighbouring Helmand province.

Military officials have said the assault in Marjah is just the first push in a campaign that will move east into Kandahar province - the Taliban’s birthplace and an area where the group still controls large swaths of land.

The attackers shot and killed Abdul Majid Babai, the head of Kandahar’s information and culture department, then drove off, said Mohammad Shah Farooqi, the deputy provincial police chief. They have not been caught, he said.

It followed the typical pattern of assassinations in Kandahar city, the capital of the volatile province of the same name. Dozens of prominent politicians and religious leaders who have ties to the government have been killed in drive—by shootings or bombings in recent years.

It was unclear what would have made Babai a target besides his status as a government official. He had held the post for about eight years.

The offensive in the town of Marjah has been progressing slowly, though Marine commanders say this is necessary because of the number of bombs planted in the area and because of their need to avoid civilian casualties.

On Monday, the man who will become the administrative head of the town of Marjah met with residents there for the first time - a move that officials hailed as a sign that they are starting to bring normalcy back to the area even as fire-fights continue.

Militants are still holed up in pockets of the town and Marine spokesmen have said they are shooting out of fortified bunkers.

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