June 25 (Bloomberg) -- Taliban insurgents detonated a car bomb and traded gunfire with police in an attack on targets including the presidential palace after gaining access to the fortified center of Kabul with fake identification cards.
Three security guards were killed and another injured in an hour-long gun battle between police and the militants, the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement. All five Taliban guerrillas who took part in the strike were shot dead, it said. Explosions and gunfire echoed through an area of the capital that also houses the U.S. Embassy and government buildings.
The Taliban claimed responsibility in an e-mailed statement, saying it deployed suicide bombers and other fighters to target President Hamid Karzai’s palace and the Afghan defense ministry. The attack occurred soon before Karzai was to brief journalists on peace talks proposed by the Taliban to end Afghanistan’s 12-year war.
Today’s strike came a week after the Taliban opened a political office in Doha, Qatar, on June 18 as a venue for peace talks after more than a year of stalled efforts toward a dialogue. While signaling it’s ready for negotiations with the U.S. and Karzai’s government, the guerrilla movement has continued its offensive, striking Kabul at least four times this month.
The insurgents got past government checkpoints into the center of Kabul using fake uniforms and ID cards for their vehicles, the city’s police chief Ayub Salangi said. They threw grenades toward the presidential palace, the defense ministry and foreign military bases, he said.
The attackers were stopped in Ariana Square, at least 500 meters and several checkpoints away from the palace, the Associated Press reported. The suicide squads were traveling in at least two vehicles similar to those used by international soldiers in Afghanistan, the New York Times reported.
Within 24 hours of the opening of the Taliban’s Qatar office, the plan for talks hit its latest obstacle. A sign attached to the building labeling it as the political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the formal name of the Taliban government the U.S. toppled in the 2001 invasion, angered Karzai.
The president called off talks on a long-term security pact with the U.S. and said he wouldn’t send a delegation to talk to the Taliban. The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, held talks in Kabul yesterday in a bid to rescue the process.
Dobbins arrived in Islamabad today, state-run Radio Pakistan reported and will hold talks with newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other leaders.
U.S. and Afghan officials say Pakistan has provided Afghan Taliban militants with a refuge in weakly governed tribal areas in its northwest. Taliban leaders, including its chief Mullah Omar, continue to be based near the Pakistani city of Quetta, American officials have said.
Speaking in Qatar on June 22, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the office could be an “important step.” In a press conference with India’s foreign minister in New Delhi yesterday, Kerry assured the country it would be consulted as and when peace talks progressed.
The U.S. has called publicly for reconciliation talks with the Taliban since early 2010 and pursued covert contacts with insurgents. The outreach was set back by numerous events, including the assassination of the Afghan government’s chief peace envoy and high-profile attacks on U.S. troops and the American embassy in Afghanistan.
It’s unclear whether the Taliban are seeking a deal with the Afghan government or are trying to run out the clock as the U.S.-led coalition winds down its role with the withdrawal of combat forces by the end of 2014. The talks were announced as Afghan forces formally made the transition on June 18 to assume responsibility for their country’s security.
To contact the reporter on this story: Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com