Rockets strike Afghan capital Kabul as president marks start of holiday

Attack comes days after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered the Taliban a three-month ceasefire

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 2:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 9:16pm

An hours-long attack in the Afghan capital Kabul ended on Tuesday when two militants were killed in a clearance operation, the military said. At least six people were injured.

“Two attackers were involved. The enemy was firing mortars,” General Murad Ali Murad, commander of Kabul’s garrison, told a press conference.

The sustained rocket attack shook the city just as President Ashraf Ghani was delivering a speech marking the beginning of Eid al-Adha, the most important holiday in the Muslim calendar.

No group immediately claimed responsibility, but the high-profile assault appeared to be a rejection by Taliban insurgents of Ghani’s offer Sunday for a conditional three-month truce.

Some Taliban leaders said on Monday they were still discussing the matter.

As Ghani spoke from his palace, the rocket fire could be heard across the city, and the president calmly acknowledged the threat of violence and made it clear that the government was expecting insurgent attacks during Eid.

“If they believe they can subdue this nation with this rocketing, they should rethink that. This nation has the resolve and courage to defend its independence, freedom and religious customs,” he said.

The interior minister later said that three attackers were killed by a helicopter gunship that bombed the warehouse they were holed up in near the Ministry of Defence, several blocks from the presidential palace.

The Afghan public and the government’s international backers, led by the United States, have been hoping that the successful ceasefire in June, followed by first-ever private talks between Taliban representatives and US diplomats, would lead to a second and more extended truce and a revival of long-abandoned peace talks for the gruelling and costly 17-year war.

But some analysts expressed scepticism after the insurgents launched an ambitious attack this month on the strategic city of Ghazni, leaving 120 people dead and buildings destroyed during a four-day siege before they were finally driven out by Afghan ground forces and US air attacks.

Since Ghani’s offer on Sunday, the insurgents have sent mixed signals. On the same day the group issued a statement saying it intended to release 300 prisoners, but on Monday, Taliban fighters kidnapped some 150 bus passengers in the northern city of Kunduz, a reminder of the militants’ ferocious assault on that strategic city in 2015.

The bus passengers were later rescued unharmed by Afghan security forces.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse