Taliban attacks in Kabul target CIA and presidential palace

Assault could derail attempts for Afghan peace talks

Smoke rises from the site of an attack in Kabul. Photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

Smoke rises from the site of an attack in Kabul. Photograph: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

 

Taliban militants attacked key buildings near Afghanistan’s presidential palace and the US CIA headquarters in Kabul, a brazen assault that could derail attempts for peace talks to end 12 years of war.

The Taliban, who have said they are willing to take part in talks with the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration, said they launched the early morning assault, which triggered a 90-minute firefight.

A US envoy was in Kabul today to try to smooth the way forward for the stalled talks in the Gulf state of Qatar ahead of the pullout from Afghanistan of most of the NATO-led troops next year.

He had been expected to meet reporters at the US embassy, but the conference was called off. Mr Karzai was also due to attend, but his whereabouts were not known. A palace official said he was safe.

A Reuters reporter at the palace said the attack began soon after 6.30am local time when at least one man opened fire with an automatic rifle close to a gate to the palace in central Shash Darak district. The fighting was over before 8am. Reporters at the palace gates for security checks took cover when the firing started.

A senior government official told Reuters four or five attackers had used fake identify papers to try to make their way through security gates in the Shash Darak district, which leads to Kabul’s most tightly guarded areas.

One car made it through, but a second vehicle was stopped and those inside began shooting. Grenades were thrown.

The area is home to the presidential palace compound, the Ministry of Defence and an annexe of the US embassy at the old Ariana Hotel. The US Central Intelligence Agency’s Afghanistan station is based there.

Afghan forces and US servicemen returned fire and explosions resounded through the area. Children walking to school were caught in the shooting, but escaped serious injury. A thick plume of smoke was seen rising from the Ariana at the height of the exchanges.

One of the attackers was killed when he detonated a bomb on his body, the government official said, and three or four were killed by security forces. At least two Afghan security guards were killed.

The US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Jim Cunningham, condemned the attack and called on the Taliban to once again commit to the nascent peace process in Doha. “We remain steadfast in supporting the Afghan government and people against the scourge of terrorism and the violence directed against them,” he said.

Elsewhere eleven members of one family were killed when a minibus hit a bomb buried in the road in southern Afghanistan, officials said today.

Kandahar governor’s spokesman Ahmad Jawed Faisal said the bus hit the device on a road north-west of Kandahar city at about 7.45am local time, killing eight women, two children and a man. Two other men were injured. Mr Faisal said all of the victims were relatives but that he had no further details.

AP/Reuters/ Bloomberg/New York Times