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Rocket attack on Afghan capital as Ghani gives Eid speech

Rockets landed near the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul during prayers for the Muslim festival of Eid al Adha, a live television broadcast showed. Daesh has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Afghan security personnel stand guard near a charred vehicle from which rockets were fired that landed near the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on July 20, 2021.
Afghan security personnel stand guard near a charred vehicle from which rockets were fired that landed near the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on July 20, 2021. (AFP)

Daesh terror group has claimed responsibility for rocket attacks in the Afghan capital that struck near the presidential palace as the country’s leader held outdoor prayers to mark Eid.

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“Soldiers of the caliphate targeted the presidential palace … and the Green Zone in Kabul with seven Katyusha rockets,” it said in a statement circulated on Telegram.

At least three rockets landed in the Afghan capital ahead of a speech by President Ashraf Ghani marking the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al Adha, the interior ministry said.

The rockets, fired at around 8:00 am (0330GMT) on Tuesday, were heard across the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses the presidential palace and several embassies, including the US mission.

There were no injuries and the rockets landed outside the heavily fortified palace grounds, said Mirwais Stanikzai, spokesman for the interior minister.

‘No intention and willingness for peace’

“This Eid has been named after Afghan forces to honour their sacrifices and courage, especially in the last three months,” Ghani said in his address to the nation following morning prayers for Eid al Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice.”

“The Taliban have no intention and willingness for peace” Ghani said. “We have proven that we have the intention, the willingness and have sacrificed for peace.”

Investigation under way

“Today the enemies of Afghanistan launched rocket attacks in different parts of Kabul city,” said interior ministry spokesman Stanikzai.

“All the rockets hit three different parts. Based on our initial information, we have no casualties. Our team is investigating.”

Rockets have been aimed at the palace several times in the past, the last being in December.

Police quickly fanned out across the area. One car parked on a nearby street was completely destroyed; the police said it was used as launching pad for the rockets.

The palace is in the middle of a so-called Green Zone that is fortified with giant cement blast walls and barbed wire, and streets near the palace have long been closed off.

Final withdrawal from Afghanistan

The barrage came as the US and NATO complete their final withdrawal from Afghanistan. Many Afghans are worried whether their war-ravaged country will fall deeper into chaos and violence as foreign forces withdraw and the Taliban gain more territory on the ground, having captured several districts and key border crossings with neighbouring countries over the past weeks.

The withdrawal is more than 95% complete and the final US soldier will be gone by August 31, President Joe Biden said in an address earlier this month.

Afghan forces have complained about being left without reinforcements and supplies, often running low on food as the Taliban advanced.

In many instances, Afghan troops surrendered rather than fight. Washington’s watchdog monitoring US spending in Afghanistan reported that troops are deeply demoralised and corruption is rampant. After their pullout, the US and NATO are committed to spending $4 billion annually on Afghan forces until 2024, the majority of that money coming from Washington.

‘Big mistake’

Ghani said he deplored his government’s decision to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners to get peace talks started last year as a “big mistake” that only strengthened the insurgents.

Yet Ghani has released other prisoners, including several sought by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with whom he signed a peace deal in 2017. Among those freed at Hekmatyar’s request was Abdul Basir Salangi, who killed two US military personnel in 2011 in Kabul.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, the No. 2 official in the government, was inside the palace during the rocket attack on Tuesday, having returned on Monday from peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar. Those inside the palace, however, were far removed from where the rockets landed.

The two days of meetings in Doha — the highest level of negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban so far — aimed at jumpstarting stalled talks but ended with a promise of more high-level talks.

‘Pakistan does not want a Taliban regime in its homeland’

In his speech, Ghani also assailed neighbouring Pakistan, which Kabul blames for harbouring the Taliban leadership and providing a safe haven and assistance to the insurgents. In the most recent fighting in the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak, Taliban fighters were seen receiving treatment at a Pakistani hospital across the border in Chaman.

Pakistan is seen as key to peace in Afghanistan.

The Taliban leadership is headquartered in Pakistan and Islamabad has used its leverage, which it claims is now waning, to press the Taliban to talk peace.

Pakistan has also been deeply critical of Kabul, saying it has allowed another militant group, the Pakistani Taliban — Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan — to find safety in Afghanistan from where they have launched a growing number of attacks targeting the Pakistan military.

“Pakistan does not want a Taliban regime in its homeland” but their media have been “campaigning for a Taliban regime in Afghanistan,” Ghani added.

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