Rockets Hit During Afghan Pres. Speech 08/21 08:56
Rockets hit during Afghan president's address; no injuries
By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Rockets were fired Tuesday toward the
presidential palace in Kabul as the Afghan president was delivering his holiday
message for the Muslim celebrations of Eid al-Adha, police said, prompting a
ferocious aerial response, with helicopter gunships bombing the house from
where the rockets were reportedly launched.
Police initially blamed the Taliban, but an Islamic State affiliate later
issued a brief statement saying it had fired mortar shells at the presidential
palace. There was no immediate comment from the Taliban.
The first rocket landed somewhere near the presidency building, while the
second hit near a NATO compound and the U.S. Embassy, but no one was hurt, said
police official Jan Agha.
The boom of the rockets was heard in the live broadcast of President Ashraf
Ghani's speech. Ghani interrupted his message to say: "If they are thinking the
rocket attack will keep Afghans down, they are wrong."
The area where the rockets hit is one of the most secure in the Afghan
capital, where embassies and government buildings are surrounded by high cement
blast walls and coils of razor wire. Many streets near the U.S. Embassy are
closed off, as well as those near sensitive government and military
Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai said Afghan police had noticed a
suspicious vehicle earlier Tuesday and followed it to a mud-brick house near
the sprawling Eid Gah mosque, where hundreds had gathered to pray during the
Eid al-Adha holiday. Stanekzai told The Associated Press that the militants are
believed to have fired the rockets from the house.
A helicopter gunship was called in and bombed the location, destroying the
house and the vehicle.
Eyewitnesses at the scene said that after the explosions, sporadic shooting
could be heard from the area, though it wasn't clear who was firing. The
witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety.
Another police official, Mohammed Akram, said four attackers were apparently
involved, though it was unclear if any survived the helicopter assault on the
house. Police were combing the area in the heart of Kabul, where crowded
open-air markets intrude on old residential areas of mostly poor, mud-brick
Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish later said all the attackers were
killed. Two members of the Afghan security forces were wounded in the
firefight, which also ignited a fire in a nearby market, he said.
The assault on the major Muslim holiday came amid an unrelenting wave of
attacks across the country in recent weeks and dealt another blow to Ghani's
efforts to revive peace talks to end the 17-year war. On Sunday, Ghani had
offered a conditional cease-fire to last during the holiday, saying it would
only take effect if the Taliban reciprocated.
Both the Taliban and IS are fighting to overthrow the U.S.-backed government
and impose a harsh form of Islamic rule. But they are fiercely divided on
leadership, tactics and ideology, and routinely clash with one another.
The Taliban have been at war for nearly 17 years, and have stepped up
attacks in recent months, seizing rural districts and carrying out major
assaults against security forces and government compounds on an almost daily
On Monday, Afghan forces rescued nearly 150 people, including women and
children, just hours after the Taliban ambushed a convoy of buses and abducted
them in the northern Kunduz province.
The quick response marked a rare if limited battlefield success for the
troops after weeks of unrelenting insurgent attacks.
Earlier this month, the insurgents launched a coordinated assault on Ghazni,
a strategic city only 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Kabul and the capital of a
province with the same name. They seized several neighborhoods, and it took
security forces, aided by U.S. airstrikes and advisers, more than five days to
drive them out.
The battle for the city killed at least 100 security forces and 35
civilians, according to Afghan officials. The Defense Ministry said about 200
militants were killed.
In neighboring Pakistan, new Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the
"cowardly" attack in Kabul.
Ghani had criticized Pakistan following the attack on Ghazni, and both the
United States and Afghanistan have accused Pakistan of harboring Taliban
militants. Islamabad denies the accusations.
The U.N. special representative to Afghanistan, Tadamichi Yamamoto, pleaded
for peace on the Muslim holiday.
"To allow all Afghans to commemorate this auspicious celebration, I strongly
urge the parties to the conflict to demonstrate good will, to respect this time
of joy and tolerance and to refrain from resorting to violence," he said.
Taliban leader Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah released a holiday message on
Saturday, saying there would be no peace in Afghanistan as long as the "foreign
occupation" continues and reiterating that the group will only negotiate
directly with the U.S.
The U.S. and NATO officially ended their combat mission at the end of 2014
but have repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces in recent years to prevent
the Taliban from advancing into major cities.
The Taliban have sent delegations to Uzbekistan and Indonesia in recent
weeks, raising their diplomatic profile even while carrying out deadly attacks.
The Taliban say they met with a U.S. diplomat in Qatar earlier this month for
what the group described as "preliminary" talks, and said it expected further