Rockets hit near presidential palace in Afghan capital Kabul
August 21, 2018 12:23 pm
A sustained rocket attack shook the Afghan capital Tuesday morning, with more than a dozen close-range rockets fired at central Kabul, just as President Ashraf Ghani was delivering a speech marking the beginning of Eid-ul-Adha, the three-day Muslim holiday.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, and no group claimed responsibility, but the high-profile assault seemed likely to signal a rejection by Taliban insurgents of Ghani’s offer Sunday for a conditional three-month truce if the militant group agreed to honor it.
The Taliban did not answer Ghani’s overture Monday, though some of its leaders said they were still discussing the matter. As he spoke from his palace Tuesday, with rocket fire beginning to be heard across the city, the president calmly acknowledged the threat of violence and made it clear that the government was expecting insurgent attacks during Eid.
“We announced a cease-fire providing it is bilateral. . . but all were ready to believe that some groups and individuals who believe in plots and bloodletting will resort today to acts that would jeopardize the tranquility of the Afghan nation,” he said. “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.”
The Afghan public and the government’s international backers, led by the United States, have been hoping that the successful cease-fire in June, followed by first-ever private talks between Taliban representatives and U.S. diplomats, would lead to a second and more extended truce and a revival of long-abandoned peace talks in the grueling and costly 17-year war.
But some analysts expressed skepticism 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 U.S. 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 forcibly 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 rescued unharmed by Afghan security forces.
And in a lengthy written Eid message to the nation, released Sunday, the top Taliban leader, Maulvi Hibatullah Akundhzada, appeared to reject the possibility of a truce or peace talks, asserting that the insurgents would continue fighting and insisting that the “lone option” for ending the conflict would be the complete withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops.
Source: The Washington Post