Taliban rockets target Kabul palace ahead of Eid al-Adha

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At least three rockets struck near the presidential palace on Tuesday shortly before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani gave a speech on the great Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

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

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket attack, but police quickly deployed to the area. A car parked in a nearby street was completely destroyed; police said it served as a launching pad for rockets.

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Security personnel inspect a damaged vehicle from which rockets were fired in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo / Rahmat Gul)
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Security personnel inspect a damaged vehicle from which rockets were fired in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo / Rahmat Gul)

The palace sits in the middle of a so-called green area which is fortified with giant cement walls and barbed wire, and the streets near the palace have been closed for a long time.

The roadblock came as the United States and NATO completed their final withdrawal from Afghanistan. Many Afghans fear that their war-torn country could sink deeper into chaos and violence as foreign forces withdraw and the Taliban gain more territory on the ground, having captured several districts and major border posts with the neighboring countries in recent weeks.

The withdrawal is over 95% complete and the last U.S. soldier will be gone on August 31, President Joe Biden said in a speech earlier this month.

“This Eid was named after the Afghan forces to honor their sacrifices and courage, especially over the past three months,” Ghani said in his address to the nation after morning prayers for Eid al- Adha, or the “feast of sacrifice”.

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

Ghani also lamented his government’s decision to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners to launch peace talks last year as a “big mistake” that only strengthened the insurgents.

“We have released 5,000 prisoners to start peace talks, but so far the Taliban has shown no serious or significant interest in the peace negotiations.

Abdullah Abdullah, government number 2, was inside the palace during the rocket attack on Tuesday, returning from peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar on Monday. Those inside the palace, however, were far from where the rockets landed.

The two-day meetings in Doha – the highest level of negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban to date – aimed to revive the stalled talks but ended with the promise of more high-level talks.

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In his speech, Ghani also attacked neighboring Pakistan, which Kabul accuses of harboring Taliban leaders and providing refuge and assistance to 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 the key to peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban leadership is headquartered in Pakistan and Islamabad has used its influence, which it says is now waning, to push the Taliban to talk about peace.

Pakistan has also been deeply critical of Kabul, saying it allowed another militant group, the Pakistani Taliban – Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan – to seek refuge in Afghanistan from where they launched a number increasing attacks targeting the Pakistani army.

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

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Eid al-Adha is the most important Islamic holiday, marking the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim – Abraham to Christians and Jews – to sacrifice his son. During the feast, which in most places lasts four days, Muslims slaughter sheep or cattle and distribute some of the meat to the poor.

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Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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