On Tuesday, at least three rockets landed near the Afghan presidential palace as Ashraf Ghani and a group of senior leaders prayed in the garden to mark the start of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.
The first rocket attack on Kabul since the Taliban launched a series of offensives to coincide with the ultimate withdrawal of Western forces from the war-torn country, despite no immediate claim of credit.
The sound of approaching missiles disturbed the early morning holiday serenity heard across the strongly defended Green Zone, which includes the presidential palace as well as other embassies, including the US mission.
Hundreds of men can be seen praying in a video uploaded on the official palace Facebook page, even as rockets can be heard overhead and explode close.
President Ghani, clad in traditional Afghan garb and a turban, stands in the foreground, seemingly unfazed as the crowd bows in unison.
“The Taliban have proved that they have no will and intention for peace,” he said in a speech afterwards.
Interior ministry spokesman Mirwais Stanikzai said three rockets appeared to have been fired from a pickup truck. One did not detonate, he said.
“Based on our initial information, we have no casualties,” he added.
Last year, hundreds of people gathered to attend Ghani’s inauguration ceremony were attacked, leading others to escape.
There were no reports of casualties, but the extremist Islamic State organization (IS) claimed credit for the attack.
Tuesday’s strike comes as the Taliban launches a massive offensive across the country as foreign forces near the end of a troop pullout that is set to end on August 31.
It also comes a day after more than a dozen diplomatic missions in Kabul urged for a “immediate halt” to the insurgents’ merciless military advance, claiming it contradicted their claims of wanting to reach a political settlement to end the conflict.
The declaration comes after another round of fruitless discussions between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha over the weekend, which many hoped would jumpstart the stalled peace process.
– Little progress –
“The Taliban’s offensive is in direct contradiction to their claim to support a negotiated settlement,” the statement read.
“It has resulted in loss of innocent Afghan lives, including through continued targeted killings, displacement of the civilian population, looting and burning of buildings, destruction of vital infrastructure, and damage to communication networks.”
For months, the two sides have been meeting on and off in the Qatari capital but have achieved little, with talks appearing to have lost momentum as the militants make battlefield gains.
A joint statement late Sunday said they had agreed on the need to reach a “just solution”, and to meet again next week.
“We also agreed that there should be no pause in the negotiations,” Abdullah Abdullah, who oversees the Afghan government’s delegation, told AFP on Monday.
Despite urgent pleas from Afghan civil society and the international community to end the war, he emphasized that neither side was currently pursuing a joint ceasefire during the discussions.
Previously, the Taliban and the government established ceasefires around religious holidays.
Following the weekend summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that his government planned to begin negotiations with the Taliban over the Taliban’s unwillingness to allow Ankara to control Kabul airport after US troops leave Afghanistan.
Turkey has been in talks with US defense officials about securing the airport, which is crucial for countries wanting to keep diplomatic missions in Afghanistan after the troops leave.
The Taliban branded Turkey’s offer “reprehensible” last week.
Meanwhile, fighting in Afghanistan continued, with both the Taliban and the government claiming victories in different sections of the nation.
Even as the hardline Islamist organisation continues its offensives, the Taliban’s top leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, claimed over the weekend that he “strenuously favors” a political settlement.
As Western soldiers prepare to leave by late August, the Taliban have begun gaining districts, seizing border crossings, and surrounding provincial capitals.
The State Department announced in Washington that 700 interpreters and their immediate family members fleeing Afghanistan will be transferred to an army installation in Virginia.
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