Deadly blockade of rocket fires hits residential areas in Kabul

At least eight people were killed on Saturday when a barrage of rockets struck densely populated parts of Kabul, marking the latest major attack in a wave of violence that swept the Afghan capital.

The eruption exploded in various parts of central and northern Kabul – including in and around the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses embassies and international companies – just before 9:00 am (0430 GMT).

The Iranian embassy said on Twitter that its main building had been hit by rocket fragments after a missile landed on the site. No one at the association, which is located just outside the green zone, was injured.

Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian blamed the Taliban and said “terrorists” had fired a total of 23 rockets.

“Based on the first information, eight people were killed and 31 others were injured,” Arian said, noting that the final toll would change.

Kabul police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz confirmed the same tolls and details.

The Taliban denied responsibility, saying they “do not fire blindly in public places.”

At least one rocket landed in an office in the Green Zone, but did not explode.

Photos and videos circulating online showed several buildings with damaged walls and windows, including in a large medical complex.

The latest major attacks in Kabul, including two horrific abuses on educational institutions that have killed nearly 50 people in recent weeks, follow a well-known pattern in the aftermath, with the Taliban denying any involvement while the Afghan government blames them or their agents.

“The rocket attack in the city of Kabul has nothing to do with the Mujahideen from the Islamic Emirate,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, using the insurgency name for Afghanistan.

The Taliban are under pressure not to attack urban areas, after promising not to do so under the terms of a US withdrawal agreement signed in February.

(1/2) I condemn this morning’s rocket and IED explosions in Kabul. Afghans should not have to live in terror. My condolences to the victims and the families of those killed and wounded.

– Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson (@USAmbKabul) 21 November 2020

Any recognition of overt involvement in such incidents could, in theory, slow down the US withdrawal, even if the outgoing US President Donald Trump has made it clear that he wants US forces out regardless of the situation on the ground.

The Islamic State group claimed the two attacks on training centers, but Kabul said the Taliban’s extremely violent Haqqani network was responsible.

Pompeo goes to Doha

The Taliban and Afghan government negotiators began peace talks in Doha in September, but progress has been slow and violence has plagued Afghanistan.

However, officials told AFP on Friday that a breakthrough was expected in the coming days, and the US State Department announced late Friday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would meet with Taliban negotiators and the Afghan government in Doha.

Trump has repeatedly promised to end “eternal war”, including in Afghanistan, the United States’ longest-running conflict ever, which began with an invasion to repel the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Elected President Joe Biden, in a rare agreement with Trump, also advocates the end of the Afghanistan war, although analysts believe he will not be as well known for a quick schedule.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon withdraw about 2,000 troops from Afghanistan, speeding up the timeline set in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban, which plans a full US withdrawal by mid-2021.

In the past six months, the Taliban have carried out 53 suicide bombings and 1,250 explosions that left 1,210 civilians dead and 2,500 wounded, Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said this week.

The Interior Ministry said two small “sticky bomb” explosions had been reported earlier on Saturday morning, including one hitting a police car and killing a police officer and injuring three others.