At least eight dead as rocket fire hits Kabul

KABUL: At least eight people were killed on Saturday when a barrage of rockets struck densely populated parts of Kabul, marking the latest attack in an ongoing wave of violence sweeping the Afghan capital.

The rockets slammed into various parts of central and north Kabul including near the heavily fortified Green Zone that houses embassies and international companies.

Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian blamed the Taliban, saying “terrorists” had fired a total of 23 rockets. “Based on initial information, eight people were martyred, and 31 others were wounded,” Arain told local media. Kabul police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz confirmed the same death toll and details.

At least one rocket landed in an office inside the Green Zone but did not explode. The Iranian embassy said on Twitter that its main building had been hit by rocket fragments after a missile landed on the premises. No one on the compound, located just outside the Green Zone, was wounded.

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 blasts and the Taliban denied responsibility.

“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.”

The Taliban are under pressure not to attack urban areas, having pledged not to do so under the terms of a US withdrawal deal signed in February. Outgoing US President Donald Trump has made clear that he wants US forces out regardless of the situation on the ground.

Taliban and Afghan government negotiators launched peace talks in Doha in September but progress has been slow and violence has raged across Afghanistan regardless.

A breakthrough is expected to be announced in the coming days and the US State Department announced late on Friday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would meet negotiators from the Taliban and the Afghan government in Doha.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon said it would soon pull some 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan 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.