KABUL – A string of rockets slammed into Kabul at daybreak Tuesday in the first major attack on the relatively calm Afghan capital in the runup to a presidential election this month, police and residents said.
Afghan officials said at least eight rockets had hit the city, one damaging a senior Interior Ministry official's house near the U.S. Embassy. A Taliban spokesman said the militants had fired nine rockets at the international airport and two at an Afghan military headquarters, in a neighborhood of embassies and government buildings, to show that the government cannot ensure security in the capital.
"We are in control," he told The Associated Press by telephone, warning that the Taliban could fire more rockets at the capital before the elections.
In recent years Kabul has been mostly spared the bombings, suicide attacks and gunbattles common across much of Afghanistan, although a handful of large-scale attacks have targeted government ministries and an international hotel.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the Aug. 20 vote, and 11 people were killed in a bombing aimed at a police official Monday in western Afghanistan's largest city, Herat, which also had been comparatively peaceful.
Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said eight rockets were fired Tuesday, wounding a child and a man.
He said the rockets had come from Deh Sabz, a village 5 miles northeast of Kabul. Police found a ninth, unexploded rocket there, he said.
Afghan National Army Maj. Ghulam Rasul said he believed the militants had fired BM1 rockets, which can be shot from portable launchers several miles from their target.
"The capital is closely guarded. They had to fire from far away," Rasul said.
One rocket hit a road in front of home of Gen. Gul Nabi Ahmedzai, the chief of police training for the Interior Ministry. The early hour of the attack meant the normally busy street was almost empty, avoiding more civilian casualties.
"There's no indication these rockets were targeting any particular site in Kabul," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Fleur Cowan said. She said the embassy had not implemented any special security measures Tuesday beyond its usual response in cases of indirect fire.
Kabul resident Ismail Khan said he was conducting Islam's dawn prayer when the rockets went off in close succession nearby.
Standing outside the Interior Ministry official's damaged home, witness Abdul Wali Zai said the rockets wouldn't affect Kabul residents, who experienced three decades of fighting, including rocketing that killed thousands of civilians as rival warlords clashed after Russian forces left the country in 1989.
A few rounds of sporadic gunfire could be heard shortly after the rockets.
Some 101,000 NATO and U.S. forces are deployed to secure the country. This includes a record 62,000 U.S. troops, more than double the number a year ago.
Nine NATO troops have been killed in fighting or bombings this month, including three Americans on Sunday and three on Saturday, along with two Canadians and one French.
With 74 troops killed, including 43 Americans, July was the deadliest month for international forces since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban's hard-line Islamist government sheltering Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.