Six members of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s honour guard were wounded Tuesday when a rocket attack hit his palace compound, two officials told.
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Several mortar shells slammed into various part of Kabul on Tuesday morning, wounding at least 10 civilians, shaking the main diplomatic district and sending foreign embassies into lockdown, officials and sources said.
The rocket was one of a salvo launched into central Kabul just as officials were gathering in the capital to commemorate Afghanistan’s 101st independence day.
Afghan Palace compound hit by rocket attacks
Ghani had finished speaking outside the famous Arg Palace to mark the event when a rocket landed in the sprawling compound and wounded six members of his honour guard, two palace officials told on condition of anonymity.
The president had already wrapped up his ceremonial duties and was not affected.
“Most of these rockets have hit civilian houses in Kabul,” Arian said.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack on Afghanistan’s independence day at a time when the United States is withdrawing troops and encouraging peace talks to end almost 19 years of war.
The interior ministry did not immediately comment on the incident, but spokesman Tareq Arian earlier said 14 rockets were fired out of two vehicles in the capital.
“Unfortunately, 10 civilians including four children and one woman have been wounded,” Arian said. Two suspects were arrested, he added.
Witnesses said some of the rockets fell near the palace and the defence ministry in a heavily fortified area that also houses several embassies.
Sources told the Reuters news agency the diplomatic area was quickly placed under lockdown after the blasts, as workers in embassies took cover in safe rooms.
Delays in Afghan peace talks
The attack came a day after the government said it would not release the last 320 Taliban prisoners it holds until the armed group frees more captured Afghan soldiers.
The decision went against that of a traditional Afghan council held earlier this month – the Loya Jirga – and is likely to further delay intra-Afghan peace talks sought by the US.
The Arg Palace is located in a highly fortified area of the capital that also houses several embassies, and “incoming fire” alarms could be heard blaring from the US embassy.
Ghani’s swearing-in ceremony on March 9 was also interrupted by rocket fire near the palace. No serious injuries were reported at the time.
In August 2018, multiple rockets were fired in Kabul, including at the presidential palace, where Ghani was making a speech. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.
No group immediately claimed Tuesday’s rocket attack, which came as the Afghan government and the Taliban are poised to begin peace talks.
Unexpected rocket attacks in Afghan residential areas
“We were expecting suicide attacks and bomb blasts on the roads, not rockets to hit our houses,” said Habib Rahman, whose house was struck by one of the rockets.
Negotiations are set to start once Kabul completes the release of about 400 Taliban prisoners as approved last week by a traditional gathering of thousands of prominent Afghans.
Afghan authorities have so far released 80 Taliban prisoners, but insist that the remaining 320 will be freed after the militants release some Afghan soldiers held captive by them.
Officials said the delay in releasing the remaining Taliban prisoners was also due to opposition from Paris and Canberra because some of the inmates are accused of killing French and Australian citizens and soldiers.
The Taliban, in a statement issued to mark independence day, vowed to continue their struggle “with all our might towards regaining our sovereignty and establishing an Islamic government in our homeland”.
Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he was not aware of the attack in Kabul.
Also on Tuesday morning, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attended an independence day ceremony at the Defence Ministry in Kabul, inspecting an honour guard and laying flowers on the Independence Minaret monument there.
Afghanistan was never a part of Britain’s empire but it became officially independent from British influence in August 1919.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk