Three rockets hit the area outside the Presidential Palace in Kabul, on the morning of July 20th.
The strike came during prayers for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, but President Ashraf Ghani and many others calmly continued praying at an outdoor gathering.
Taliban denied they were involved in the attack on the heavily fortified palace.
Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters in a voice message the fighters were in a “state of defense” during the Eid religious holiday. Unlike some previous years, the Taliban have not officially declared a ceasefire for Eid over the week.
Television images showed Ghani and dozens of others kneeling for prayer as the first explosion was heard. Most continued to pray as security guards could be seen in the background hurrying toward the sound of the blasts.
It is natural that the Taliban would come to mind as the culprits behind the attack, since they have for years fired rockets into the city every now and then, usually inflicting only minor damage and few if any casualties.
In March 2020, four rockets fell on the edge of the palace compound during Ghani’s inauguration as president. Islamic State insurgents claimed responsibility.
Video by national TV shows the moment rockets landed near the Presidential Palace during Eid prayers this morning. pic.twitter.com/WmEniyfLfM
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) July 20, 2021
— Sandeep Seth (@sandipseth) July 20, 2021
“This Eid has been named after Afghan forces to honor their sacrifices and courage, especially in the last three months,” Ghani said in his address to the nation following morning prayers for Eid al-Adha, or the “Feast of Sacrifice.”
“The Taliban have no intention and willingness for peace” Ghani said. “We have proven that we have the intention, the willingness and have sacrificed for peace.”
Afghan forces have complained about being left without reinforcements and supplies, often running low on food as the Taliban advanced.
In many instances, Afghan troops surrendered rather than fight. Washington’s watchdog monitoring U.S. spending in Afghanistan reported that troops are deeply demoralized and corruption is rampant.
After their pullout, the U.S. and NATO are committed to spending $4 billion annually on Afghan forces until 2024, the majority of that money coming from Washington.
Ghani said he deplored his government’s decision to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners to get peace talks started last year as a “big mistake” that only strengthened the insurgents.
In his speech, Ghani also condemned neighboring Pakistan, which Kabul blames for harboring the Taliban leadership and providing a safe haven and assistance to the insurgents. In the most recent fighting in the Afghan border town of Spin Boldak, Taliban fighters were seen receiving treatment at a Pakistani hospital across the border in Chaman.
Pakistan is seen as key to peace in Afghanistan. The Taliban leadership is headquartered in Pakistan and Islamabad has used its leverage, which it calims is now waning, to press the Taliban to talk peace.
Pakistan has also been deeply critical of Kabul, saying it has allowed another militant group, the Pakistani Taliban — Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan — to find safety in Afghanistan from where they have launched a growing number of attacks targeting the Pakistan military.
“Pakistan does not want a Taliban regime in its homeland” but their media have been “campaigning for a Taliban regime in Afghanistan,” Ghani added.
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