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Eight Feared Killed in Rocket Attacks in Kabul

Vinayak Barot

NEW DELHI, Nov 21: At least eight people are feared killed when a barrage of rockets struck densely populated civilian parts of Kabul on Saturday morning. The Afghan interior minister Tariq Arian, however, confirmed three dead claiming 14 rockets slammed into various parts of central and north Kabul — including near the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses embassies and international companies — just before 9:00 am.  The health ministry spokeswoman Masooma Jafari put the toll at five dead, 21 wounded, in the latest attack in an ongoing wave of violence sweeping the Afghan capital.

According to sources the rockets were fired a few minutes after two explosions in Chehel Sutoon and Arzaan Qeemat areas. Photos and videos circulating online showed several buildings with damage to walls and windows, including at a large a medical complex.

No group immediately claimed the responsibility for the blasts while the Taliban denied any involvement in it. The Taliban is alleged to have operated several major attacks in the last two months in around 50 districts across 16 provinces in Afghanistan but every time denied any responsibility since it joined the US-initiated “peace talks” with the Afghan government in Doha, Qatar.

The Taliban and the US fixed meeting in February for the peace deal and the Taliban alleged to have become more violent when the US joined the negotiations in September.

According to sources, hands of the Islamic State could not be ruled out behind the Saturday’s Kabul attack. ISIS had already carried out an attack on the Kabul University, in which terrorists had killed more than 25 people and injured dozens last month.

Recent big attacks in Kabul, including two horrific assaults on educational institutions that killed nearly 50 people in recent weeks, follow a familiar pattern in the aftermath, with the Taliban denying any involvement while the Afghan government pins the blame on them or their proxies.

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

“We do not blindly fire on public places,” he said.

The Taliban are under pressure not to attack urban areas, having pledged not to do so under the terms of a US withdrawal deal. Any acknowledgement of overt involvement in such incidents could in theory slow the American pull-out, though outgoing US President Donald Trump has made clear that he wants US forces out regardless of the situation on the ground.

Trump has repeatedly vowed to end “forever wars,” including in Afghanistan, America’s longest-ever conflict that began with an invasion to dislodge the Taliban following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

President-elect Joe Biden, in a rare point of agreement, also advocates winding down the Afghanistan war although analysts believe he will not be as wedded to a quick timetable.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull some 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan, speeding up the timeline established in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban that envisions a full US withdrawal in mid-2021.

The progress of the peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators had been slow and violence had raged across Afghanistan regardless. In the past six months, the Taliban carried out 53 suicide attacks and 1,250 explosions that left 1,210 civilians dead and 2,500 wounded, Arian had said this week.