Rocket Hits Near Afghan Loya Jirga Meeting, 1 Hurt
Insurgents on Thursday fired a rocket near the venue of a major meeting in the Afghan capital Kabul discussing the controversial presence of U.S. troops after NATO combat forces leave in 2014.
The strike, which was claimed by the Taliban, injured one person but highlighted lingering security fears at the four-day loya jirga event which brings together around 2,000 elders from around the warring country.
"It's apparently rocket shots fired into Kabul," said the city's police chief Mohammad Ayoub Salangi after witnesses reported two loud explosions shortly after 8:00 am (0330 GMT), before day two of the loya jirga started.
Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said one of the rockets landed by the side of a road in an area next to the Intercontinental Hotel, which an Agence France Presse reporter said was roughly 500 meters (yards) from the jirga venue.
One civilian was "slightly injured" by the other rocket, Sediqqi said, which landed several kilometers (miles) from the jirga venue.
In a text message sent to journalists, the Taliban claimed it launched two rockets at the loya jirga tent late Wednesday.
The Islamist militants, leaders of a 10-year insurgency against roughly 140,000 NATO-led forces and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, are known to distort and exaggerate their claims in relation to attacks.
They had threatened to target the loya jirga, convened by Karzai to discuss a strategic partnership being negotiated with the United States and a peace strategy with insurgents.
On Monday, a suspected suicide bomber with bag of explosives was shot dead near the jirga venue after the Taliban claimed to have leaked a security plan for the event which Afghan and Western officials dismissed as fake.
During Afghanistan's last loya jirga in 2010, militants fired rockets at the event in a security breach that led to two ministers resigning.
On Wednesday, Karzai outlined conditions for a U.S. troop presence in his country after NATO combat forces leave at the end of 2014.
He called on the US to take steps including stopping night raids and respecting Afghan sovereignty in order for Afghanistan to agree to host U.S. troops in the long-run.
On Thursday, elders are discussing Karzai's proposals in 40 separate committees.
Washington insists it is not seeking a permanent presence in Afghanistan and the Pentagon said Wednesday that it was "too early" to define exactly how a partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan would work post 2014.
"We do want to have a long-term strategic partnership but specific components of that partnership are still to be defined," said Pentagon press secretary George Little.
An AFP reporter at the scene of the rocket impact in northern Kabul, some distance from the jirga, said the projectile hit a pile of dirt in an area where people parked handcarts used to sell vegetables on the street.
Windows in buildings nearby were shattered and police sealed off the area, the reporter added.