Afghanistan rocked by Taliban spring offensive
Afghan National Army soldiers keep watch near the Provincial Reconstruction Team as a NATO helicopter flies over the site of an attack in Jalalabad province. At least two attackers were killed and five people wounded in the Kabul. REUTERS photoThe Taliban launched a series of coordinated attacks on as many as seven sites across the Afghan capital yesterday, targeting NATO bases, parliament and Western embassies. Militants also launched near-simultaneous assaults in three other eastern cities.
At least two attackers were killed and five people wounded in the Kabul, where fighting still raged as Daily News went to press. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying they marked the start of their annual spring offensive which heralds the fighting season. “A lot of suicide bombers” were involved, he said.
The attacks were the most widespread attacks seen in the heavily guarded capital since September, and demonstrated the insurgents’ resolve heading into the spring fighting season, when warmer weather typically brings increased attacks.
The Kabul attack began yesterday afternoon with explosions in the central neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, where a NATO base and a number of embassies, including that of the U.S., are located. Gunfire erupted soon after the blasts, forcing people caught on the street to scramble for cover. More than 10 explosions in all rocked the city, as heavy gunfire crackled through the streets for hours after the first blast.
Foreign ministry denies reports
Meanwhile, the Turkish foreign ministry has denied reports that a Turkish military base near the Afghan capital was attacked by Taliban militants. “Neither the Turkish military base, nor the Turkish Embassy in Kabul were attacked,” a statement from the ministry said.
In an e-mailed statement, Mujahid said the attacks were targeting NATO headquarters, the British and German Embassies, the Afghan Parliament building, the Serena and Kabul Star hotels and multiple sites along Darulaman road, where the Russian Embassy is located. At the same time, Taliban fighters launched assaults on Afghan and NATO installations in the capital cities of Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia provinces, he said. He told the Associated Press in a phone call that the insurgent group had planned the assault for two months to show the extent of their power after being called “weak” by NATO forces.
Mohammad Nahim Lalai Hamidzai, a lawmaker from Kandahar, said he climbed the tower of the Parliament building and fired with other MPs on a building under construction from which militants were shooting at the Parliament. “I shot up to 400 or 500 bullets from my Kalashnikov (a rifle) at the attackers,” Hamidzai said. “They fired two rocket-propelled grenades at the Parliament. The fight was around the Parliament, the Russian Embassy and Vice President’s house.”
TURKEY ENVOY TO HEAD PEACE COUNCIL
KABUL - Reuters
Afghanistan’s government appointed Salahuddin Rabbani, the son of slain statesman Burhanuddin Rabbani and the country’s ambassador to Turkey, to replace his father and lead the country’s High Peace Council charged with reaching out to Taliban insurgents.
Former President Burhanuddin Rabbani was head of the council when he was assassinated last September by an insurgent carrying a bomb hidden in a turban, a major setback to reconciliation efforts with the Afghan Taliban, and exploratory moves towards peace talks. Salahuddin Rabbani is currently Afghanistan’s ambassador to Turkey, and his appointment as Kabul’s chief peace negotiator with the Taliban ends a seven-month gap at the top of the 70-member council as the Taliban intensifies a spring bombing offensive in the leadup to the summer fighting months. Rabbani’s appointment was “suitable for consolidating national unity and preventing foreign interference,” President Hamid Karzai said in the statement.