KABUL - Two Taliban rockets landed inside the US embassy compound in Kabul early on Wednesday, causing no casualties but underlining Afghanistan’s continuing security problems as many foreigners in the capital marked Christmas Day.
Taliban militants, who have been fighting the US-backed government since being ousted from power in 2001, claimed responsibility for the attack, which included at least one other strike in the city.
Rocket attacks in Kabul have been rare in recent years, but the insurgents have vowed to step up pressure on the US and Afghan authorities before next year’s presidential election in April and the withdrawal of US-led NATO combat forces.
“At approximately 6:40 local time in Kabul, approximately two rounds of indirect fire impacted the US Embassy compound,” a statement from the embassy said. “All Americans are accounted for and no injuries were sustained.
“The Embassy continues to investigate the attack.” The mortar rockets sent US diplomats rushing for shelter as the heavily-fortified embassy in the city centre sounded its emergency sirens and loudspeakers broadcast a “duck and cover” alarm warning. Another rocket landed near a hill where former kings and members of the old royal family are buried in a large mausoleum, a spokesman for the National Directorate of Security told AFP.
“One impacted near Maranjan hill, about one mile (1.6 kilometres) from the presidential palace. There are no reported casualties,” Lutfullah Mashal said.
In a text message to AFP, the Taliban claimed the rockets caused heavy casualties, but the insurgents regularly make exaggerated claims after attacks.
“Today at around 6am four rockets were fired at the US embassy in Kabul. All hit the target (causing) heavy casualties,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in the message.
Previous Taliban mortar attacks on Kabul have lacked accuracy, and the Christmas Day attacks will raise concerns that the militants have improved their ability to launch and direct the rockets.
Kabul has seen a drop in insurgent attacks in recent months after a series of high-profile strikes earlier in the year, with the NDS claiming to have foiled several plots to launch complex assaults involving truck bombs and suicide gunmen.
Earlier this month a Taliban suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle near a NATO military convoy entering the city airport, killing himself but causing no other deaths or injuries.
In October a car bomb attack killed two civilians outside a compound housing foreign workers near the airport.
The Supreme Court, the airport, foreign compounds and the presidential palace were all targeted in major attacks during 2013.
NATO forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting the Taliban, but negotiations have stalled on a security accord that would allow some US and NATO troops to stay after 2014.
President Hamid Karzai first endorsed the deal - which lays out rules for US troops, and would be the basis for other NATO forces - but he later said it might only be signed after the April election that will choose his successor.
The ministry of interior said four policemen had suffered minor injuries on Wednesday morning when some other explosive ordnance detonated as they were investigating the rocket on Maranjan hill.