Afghan Independence Day rocket attack wounds 10 in Kabul

Embassies went into lockdown and security forces swept the area but arrests have already been made

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Rockets struck Afghanistan's presidential palace and areas of central Kabul on Tuesday, wounding at least 10 civilians and several security officers.

"Several rockets were fired from two vehicles," Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said. One hit the palace, wounding six members of President Ashraf Ghani’s honour guard marking the country’s 101 independence day.

Mr Ghani had finished speaking outside the famous Arg Palace to mark the event when a rocket landed in the sprawling compound and wounding the six members of the guard, two palace officials told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Blasts from the 14 rockets shook the diplomatic quarter around Wazir Akbar Khan and Sherpur area of central Kabul.  Most hit civilian buildings.

Mr Arian said two suspects had been arrested.

"Unfortunately, 10 civilians including four children and one woman have been wounded."

Shah Hussain, a student who lives in Makroyan Block 9, told The National that he was sitting on the balcony at the time of the attack.

“I was hit by a loud sound and the impact threw me back,” he said, adding that one of the rockets hit a tree near his building.

Another rocket landed near a bakery outside the presidential palace wounding one woman. “One of the women was injured but no one else was hurt. There is a lot of damage, to the surrounding homes and shops and some cars have also been damaged,” he said.

Mr Hussain said he was angry that the government was celebrating independence day while civilians continue to be hurt and killed in the country’s ongoing bloodshed.

“They government is celebrating independence day with their own security at risk and can’t even protect us. We are hiding in our homes afraid of bombs and explosions. What kind of independence is this,” he asked.

No group immediately claimed Tuesday's rocket attack, which came as the Afghan government and the Taliban are poised to begin peace talks.

"We were expecting suicide attacks and bomb blasts on the roads, not rockets to hit our houses," said Habib Rahman, whose house was struck by one of the rockets.

Smoke billowed, alarms shrilled and shrapnel flew, witnesses said they heard at least four rockets landing near the Green Zone area, home to many foreign embassies and Nato headquarters, as well as near the Defence Ministry as well as the neighbourhoods of Qala-e Musa and Shashdarak.

The two areas are home to government and international offices, foreign workers and many businesses.  A few rockets also landed in Makroryan Khohna, the Soviet-era apartment blocks.

Sources told Reuters the area was quickly placed under lockdown as workers in embassies took cover in safe rooms.

"The warning alarm sounded two to three seconds before impact and then there was the sound of the first rocket, then, soon afterwards, another much louder one with a huge boom and shrapnel and bits of concrete fell," added one of them.

A diplomatic source told Reuters one rocket had landed near a mosque just outside the tightly-guarded diplomatic enclave.

"All diplomatic officials in embassies in the green zone have been moved to safe rooms in the diplomatic district until clearance orders," a senior western security official said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he wasn’t aware of the mortar attack in Kabul. The ISIS affiliate that operates in Afghanistan has interrupted national celebrations in the past with rocket fire but there is, as yet, no claim of responsibility.

It comes as talks between the government and the Taliban are set to start to end the country’s long-running war. The issue of releasing Taliban prisoners has delayed the beginning of negotiations, set to take place in Doha.

Officials said the delay in releasing the remaining Taliban prisoners was also due to opposition from Paris and Canberra because some of the inmates are accused of killing French and Australian citizens and soldiers.

The US has been withdrawing troops after making a deal with the Taliban to end the 19-year war. - Additional reporting by agencies