Taliban attack presidential palace in Afghanistan

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Afghans chant anti-government slogans after burning a truck, believed to be owned by foreigners during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday June 24, 2013. The protests centered around government plans to develop a subdivision in the capital on land that has long been occupied by squatters. Demonstrators blocked two main roads out of the city, and said they would continue their protests until the government gave them somewhere else to live. AP/Rahmat Gul

KABUL – Taliban militants targeted the presidential palace and national CIA office in central Kabul on Tuesday morning, with gunfire and explosions erupting at one of the gates of the complex in the Afghan capital.

Blasts and gunshots shook the city for an hour after the first explosions at about 6:30 am, sending smoke into the air in a high-security area of Kabul that also contains many embassies and official buildings.

Police said that three or four attackers had approached one entrance to the sprawling palace area and had fled their explosives-laden car before detonating it.

Kabul police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi told reporters at the scene that all the militants had died and no security forces personnel or civilians were killed, giving no further details.

A palace source told AFP that the expansive grounds around the building had not been breached.

President Hamid Karzai, who lives in the palace, was due to hold a press event on Tuesday morning and journalists had been asked to report to the building.

All roads to the palace are permanently closed off, with several rings of heavy security around the complex keeping people far away.

“A big group of attackers have struck against the CIA office as the main target and also the palace and the defence ministry nearby,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

The US embassy sounded its “duck and cover” alarm drill and the US-led NATO military coalition said on its Twitter account: “Small arms fire and multiple explosions reported in Kabul.”

The last major attack in Kabul was on June 11 when the Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb outside the Supreme Court that killed at least 15 civilians.

Tuesday’s attack came during a visit to Kabul by US envoy James Dobbins after a diplomatic bust-up over the Taliban’s new office in Qatar that was intended as a first step towards a peace deal to end 12 years of fighting in Afghanistan.

The Qatar office used the formal name of “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan” from the rebels’ 1996-2001 government, and flew the white Taliban flag that is seen by many Afghans as a grim reminder of the cruelties of Taliban rule.

President Hamid Karzai, furious over the flag and sign, broke off ongoing Afghan-US talks on an agreement that would allow Washington to maintain soldiers in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends.

Karzai has so far declined to send representatives to Qatar, but pressure is growing for a ceasefire and eventually a peace settlement ahead of next year’s NATO withdrawal and Afghan presidential elections due to April.

About 100,000 foreign combat troops, 68,000 of them from the US, are due to withdraw, and NATO formally transferred responsibility for nationwide security to Afghan forces a week ago.

When in power, the Taliban imposed a harsh version of Islamic law that banned television, music and cinema, stopped girls from going to school and forced woman to wear the all-covering burqa.

They were ousted in 2001 for sheltering the Al-Qaeda militants behind the 9/11 attacks, but launched a resilient and bloody insurgency against US-led NATO troops and the US-backed Afghan government.

Dobbins on Monday said Washington was “outraged” at how the Taliban opened an office in Qatar.

Originally posted at 11:43 am | Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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