Monday 18 December 2017

Taliban attack presidential palace

Afghans chant anti-government slogans during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)
Afghans chant anti-government slogans during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)
Smoke rises from the eastern gate of the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)
Half a dozen blasts were heard outside the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)

Taliban militants stormed the presidential compound in Kabul on Tuesday after bluffing their way past two checkpoints, triggering a gunbattle that left eight attackers and three guards dead and sent journalists attending an official event scrambling for cover, officials and witnesses said.

The well-planned daylight assault in a highly fortified zone of the capital was a bold challenge to Kabul's authority just a week after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar as the Islamic militant movement said it was willing to begin a US-led peace process.

Nato also formally handed over security for the entirety of the country to Afghan forces just last week. The body it leads, the International Security Assistance Force, said it was standing by if needed during the skirmish but Afghan authorities did not ask it for help and thwarted the attack on their own.

The gunbattle started around 6:30am near the east gate leading to the palace next to the Afghan Ministry of Defence and the former Ariana Hotel, which former US intelligence officials have confirmed is used by the CIA. One carload of Taliban fighters dressed in military-style camouflage uniforms emerged from a black Land Cruiser and started shooting. Another got stuck between two checkpoints and detonated their explosives-laden vehicle.

The Taliban said all eight of its fighters died in the attack, while the Interior Ministry said three security guards were killed and another wounded.

The attack was a bitter reminder of the ability of the Taliban to penetrate the heart of the capital, showing their strength in the fight against President Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government.

Though the Taliban have indicated they are willing to open peace talks, they have not renounced violence and attacks have continued across Afghanistan.

President Karzai said in a statement the attack showed "they are against peace, stability and progress in Afghanistan." He added: "The Taliban should give answers to the Afghan people."

The palace is in a large fortified area of Kabul that also includes the US Embassy and the headquarters for the Nato-led coalition forces and access is heavily restricted. Some Kabul residents initially thought the gunfire was a coup attempt because the idea of a Taliban attack within the security zone seemed so unlikely.

The attackers were stopped in Ariana Square, at least 500 yards and several checkpoints away from the palace itself. President Karzai was reportedly in the palace at the time. A group of journalists, including from The Associated Press, waiting to enter the palace grounds for a news event on Afghan youth witnessed the start of the attack and took cover behind a religious shrine, pulling a boy off the street who had been caught in the open on his way to school.

Press Association

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