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Rockets target Kabul palace, Ghani not hurt

Afghan President calmly continued to pray with others during attack; Taliban deny involvement
Ashraf Ghani
Ashraf Ghani
File picture

AP, Reuters   |   Kabul   |   Published 21.07.21, 12:53 AM

Rockets hit the Afghan capital on Tuesday, landing near the presidential palace during prayers for the Id-ul-Zuha, but President Ashraf Ghani and many others calmly continued praying at an outdoor gathering, TV images showed.

Three rockets landed outside the palace, said interior ministry spokesperson Mirwais Stanekzai, adding that there were no immediate reports of injuries.


 Taliban insurgents denied they were involved in the attack on the heavily fortified palace. Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters in a voice message that the fighters were in a “state of defence” during the Id holiday. Unlike previous years, the Taliban have not officially declared a ceasefire for Id this week.

 Mujahid did not immediately reply when asked if the Taliban’s defensive stance constituted a ceasefire.

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

The rocket barrage comes 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 per cent complete and the final US soldier will be gone by August 31, President Joe Biden said in an address earlier this month.

“This Id has been named after Afghan forces to honour their sacrifices and courage, especially in the last three months,” Ghani said in his address after morning prayers.

“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.”

However, 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.

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 number two 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. However, he and other officials 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.

In his speech, Ghani also criticised 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 to find safety in Afghanistan.

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