Rockets fired at president’s palace during Eid prayers

At least three rockets exploded near the presidential palace in Kabul shortly before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was to give an address to the nation to mark the major Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha yesterday.

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

No-one immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket attack. One car parked on a nearby street was destroyed. Police said it was used as a launching pad for the rockets.

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

The barrage came as the US and Nato forces complete their final withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Many Afghans are worried that 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 95pc complete and the final US soldier will be gone by August 31, US President Joe Biden said in an address earlier this month.

“This Eid has been named after Afghan forces to honour their sacrifices and courage, especially in the last three months,” Mr Ghani said in his address following morning prayers for Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice”.

“The Taliban have no intention and willingness for peace,” Mr 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 have surrendered rather than fight.

Washington’s watchdog monitoring US spending in Afghanistan reported that troops are deeply demoralised and corruption is rampant.

After their withdrawal, the US and Nato are committed to spending $4bn (€3.4bn) annually on Afghan forces until 2024, the majority of that money coming from Washington.

Mr 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 he has released other prisoners, including several sought by warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with whom he signed a peace deal in 2017.

Among those freed at Mr Hekmatyar’s request was Abdul Basir Salangi, who killed two US military personnel in 2011 in Kabul.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Abdullah, the No 2 official in the government, was inside the palace during the rocket attack on yesterday, having returned on Monday from peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar.

Those inside the palace, however, 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.

Meanwhile, Russian tanks moved near the Afghan-Tajik border on Monday ahead of military exercises next month, and Moscow announced more drills in neighbouring Uzbekistan as regional tensions over the Taliban’s territorial gains in Afghanistan remained high.

Taliban fighters have made major advances as US forces pull out after 20 years of war, a security headache for Moscow which fears refugees may be pushed into its Central Asian backyard, destabilising its southern defensive flank.

Tank crews from Russia’s military base in Tajikistan, its biggest on foreign soil, completed a 200km journey to a military range near the Afghan border, the TASS news agency cited Russia’s Central Military District as saying in a statement yesterday.

During the deployment, the T-72 tank crews practised protecting convoys and repelling enemy fire, TASS reported.

The joint drills, which involve Russian, Tajik and Uzbek forces, are due to take place 20km from the Afghan border in Tajikistan from August 5-10, Russia’s armed forces said on Monday.

 

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