KABUL: Taliban militants attacked an entrance to the Afghan presidential palace with gunfire and car bombs on Tuesday, just a week after insurgent leaders opened an office in Qatar for peace talks.
It was one of the most brazen attacks in the capital since President Hamid Karzai narrowly escaped assassination in April 2008 when the Taliban attacked an annual military parade in Kabul.
Gunfire and explosions erupted for more than an hour after the attack began at 6:30 a.m. (2 a.m. Manila time), sending smoke into the air above a high-security area of Kabul that also contains many embassies and official buildings.
Two four-wheel-drive cars using fake North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) badges tried to pass through a checkpoint to access the sprawling palace grounds, police said.
“The first vehicle was checked and let in, and as the second car tried to get in the guards became suspicious and tried to prevent it,” said Kabul deputy police chief Mohammad Daud Amin. “The clash started and the cars were detonated. All the attackers were killed.”
Police said the cars had been fitted with radio antennae to make them look like ISAF vehicles and that the three or four attackers were also wearing military uniforms.
No civilians were hurt in the attack, but police were unable to confirm if any palace security guards had been injured.
The cars detonated near a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) office inside the first of several layers of checkpoints around the palace, but a palace official said the building’s expansive grounds had not been breached.
Karzai, who lives in the palace, was due to hold a press event on Tuesday morning and journalists had been asked to report to a checkpoint near the blasts.
All roads to the palace are permanently closed off, with multiple rings of heavy security around the complex keeping people far away.
“A big group of attackers have struck against the CIA office as the main target and also the palace and the defense ministry nearby,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
In the southern province of Kandahar, a roadside bombing on Tuesday killed eight women and one child as they were traveling to celebrate a wedding engagement, police said.
The last major attack in Kabul was on June 11 when the Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb outside the Supreme Court that killed at least 15 civilians.
Tuesday’s attack came during a visit to Kabul by US envoy James Dobbins after a diplomatic bust-up over the Taliban’s new office in Qatar that was intended as a first step towards a peace deal to end 12 years of fighting in Afghanistan.
The Qatar office used the formal name of “Islamic Emirate Of Afghanistan” from the rebels’ 1996-2001 government, and flew the white Taliban flag that is seen by many Afghans as a grim reminder of the cruelties of Taliban rule.
Karzai, furious over the flag and sign, broke off Afghan-US talks on an agreement that would allow Washington to maintain soldiers in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends next year.
Karzai has also refused to send representatives to Qatar, but pressure is growing for a ceasefire and eventually a peace settlement ahead of the NATO withdrawal and presidential elections in April.