Kabul hit by biggest rocket attack in years

A police officer stands guard next to the broken window of a house after a rocket attack near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday.Rafiq Maqbool / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Taliban militants fired at least nine rockets at the Afghan capital before dawn on Tuesday in the biggest attack of its kind for several years, some landing near major Western embassies, police and witnesses said.

Amid a serious escalation of violence before August 20 presidential elections, a provincial governor escaped unhurt after roadside bombs hit his convoy just west of the capital in an apparent assassination attempt, a spokesman said.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the elections and have called on Afghans to boycott the ballot, the second direct presidential poll since the Islamists were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001.

Violence across Afghanistan this year had already reached its worst level since 2001 and escalated further after thousands of U.S. Marines launched a major offensive in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand in the south last month.

Senior police officer Sayed Ghafar said two rockets landed in the Wazir Akbar Khan diplomatic area, home to both the U.S. and British embassies as well as the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

At least one rocket landed near a hospital close to the U.S. Embassy, television pictures showed.

Child wounded
Other rockets landed in different areas of the city, shattering windows and startling residents in the pre-dawn darkness. One child was wounded.

Residents said Tuesday's rocket attack was the biggest for several years. It was also the first serious attack in Kabul in this year's upswing of violence, which has gradually spread out of Taliban strongholds in the south and east.

An ISAF spokeswoman said it was investigating the attack but did not yet have any information about what kind of rockets had been used.

The Taliban later claimed to have fired 12 rockets at Kabul, with the city's combined military and civilian airport their target.

Mohammad Halim Fedaye, governor of Maidan Wardak province just west of Kabul, was unhurt after his convoy was hit by roadside bombs on Kabul's western outskirts on Tuesday, a spokesman for Fedaye said.

There were no other casualties, he said. No other details were available.

The attack on Fedaye was the latest in a string of ambushes and bombings aimed at candidates, campaign officials and election offices in the past two weeks.

A vice-presidential running mate of President Hamid Karzai was among those attacked but was also unhurt.

On Monday, a roadside bomb attack claimed by the Taliban killed at least 12 people in the normally peaceful western city of Herat, an important commercial hub near the Iranian border.

At least nine foreign troops, including six Americans, were killed at the weekend, mainly in the south and east.

The U.S. military has poured thousands of extra troops into Afghanistan in recent months, with NATO members sending smaller numbers, in a bid to help secure the election.

The extra troops are part of U.S. President Barack Obama's wider new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and its Islamist allies and stabilize Afghanistan.

With Washington identifying Afghanistan as its major military priority, the election is seen as a test of Obama's new strategy and of Kabul's ability to stage a credible and legitimate ballot.

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