Rocket hits U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul

A rocket exploded at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan just minutes into Wednesday, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, but officials at the compound later declared an all-clear and reported no injuries.

A plume of smoke rose over central Kabul shortly after midnight and sirens could be heard. Inside the embassy, employees heard this message over the loudspeaker: “An explosion caused by a rocket has occurred on compound.”

There was no immediate comment from Afghan officials or those with the NATO mission, which is also nearby.

It was the first major attack in the Afghan capital since U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly called off U.S.-Taliban talks over the weekend, on the brink of an apparent deal to end America’s longest war.

Two Taliban car bombs shook Kabul last week, killing several civilians and two members of the NATO mission. Trump has cited the death of a U.S. service member in one of those blasts as the reason why he now calls the U.S.-Taliban talks “dead.”

The anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is a sensitive day in Afghanistan’s capital and one on which previous attacks have occurred. A U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 toppled the Taliban, who had harboured Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader and mastermind behind the attacks on the U.S. 

In the nearly 18 years of fighting since then, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan soared to 100,000 and dropped dramatically after bin Laden was killed in neighbouring Pakistan in 2011.

Now about 14,000 U.S. troops remain and Trump has called it “ridiculous” that they are still in Afghanistan after so long and so many billions of dollars spent.

It is not clear whether the U.S.-Taliban talks will resume.

Meanwhile, the United Nations envoy for Afghanistan said Tuesday it is imperative for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to start quickly, and he urged the militant Islamist group to retract its threat to disrupt the upcoming presidential election.

Tadamichi Yamamoto told the UN Security Council that the events of recent days and weeks “have shown, more than ever, the urgency of finding a political settlement to the long Afghan conflict.”

United Nations envoy for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto, seen in this November 28, 2018 file photo, says it is imperative for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to start quickly. (Fabrice Coffrini/Reuters )

The UN envoy said opportunities for peace over the past year “created hope, but also fear for many,” and made clear that the conflict can only be resolved by direct talks involving “the whole spectrum of Afghan society.”

“It is imperative therefore that direct talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban commence as soon as possible,” Yamamoto said.

He urged the parties to the conflict and all those interested in peace to keep working to bring about direct talks.

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