Rockets Fired At Afghan Presidential Palace During Eid Speech

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Police blame Taliban for Kabul attack heard in live broadcast of Ashraf Ghani’s address

The Taliban have fired a pair of rockets towards the presidential palace in Kabul during a live broadcast by Ashraf Ghani to mark the Muslim celebrations of Eid al-Adha, police have said.

The first rocket landed somewhere near the palace, the second near a Nato compound and the US embassy in Kabul but no one was hurt, the police official Jan Agha said.

The boom of the rockets was heard during the broadcast of Ghani’s speech. The president interrupted his message to say: “If they are thinking the rocket attack will keep Afghans down, they are wrong.”

There was no immediate statement from the Taliban, or a claim of responsibility for the attack by any other militant group, but the assault on the major Muslim holiday sent a stark message.

It was also another blow to Ghani’s efforts to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table and hold peace talks to end the country’s 17-year war.

The area where the rockets hit is one of the most secure in the heavily fortified area of Kabul, where embassies and Afghan government buildings are surrounded by high cement blast walls and coils of razor wire. Many streets near the US embassy are closed off, as well as those near sensitive government and military locations.

A Kabul police spokesman, Hashmat Stanekzia, said officers had noticed a suspicious vehicle earlier on Tuesday morning and followed it to a house near the Eid Gah mosque where hundreds had gathered to offer their prayers for Eid al-Adha.

Once inside the house, the suspects are believed to have fired the rockets, Stanekzia told Associated Press. A helicopter gunship was called in and bombed the location, destroying the house and the vehicle.

Witnesses at the scene said that after the explosions, sporadic shooting could be heard from the area though it was not clear who was firing. The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity fearing for their safety.

On Sunday, Ghani had offered a conditional ceasefire to last during the holiday, saying it would only take effect if the Taliban reciprocated.

The Taliban have been at war with the US-backed Afghan government for nearly 17 years, and have increased their attacks in recent months, seizing rural districts and carrying out major assaults against security forces and government compounds on an almost daily basis.

On Monday, Afghan forces rescued nearly 150 people, including children, just hours after the Taliban ambushed a convoy of buses and abducted the passengers in northern Kunduz province. The quick response marked a rare if limited battlefield success for the troops.

Earlier this month, the insurgents launched a coordinated assault on Ghazni, a strategic city 75 miles (120km) from Kabul. They seized several neighbourhoods, and it took security forces, aided by US 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 defence ministry said about 200 militants were killed.


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