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Rocket attack in Kabul, NATO to halt operations during polls

NATO said it would suspend military operations during the forthcoming Afghan presidential elections, as two rockets believed to have been fired by Taliban militants landed near the presidential palace on Tuesday morning, causing no casualties.

world Updated: Aug 18, 2009 17:46 IST

NATO said it would suspend military operations during the forthcoming Afghan presidential elections, as two rockets believed to have been fired by Taliban militants landed near the presidential palace on Tuesday morning, causing no casualties.

"In support of the Afghan National Security Forces who lead the security efforts during the electoral process, only those operations that are deemed necessary to protect the population will be conducted on that day," the alliance said in a statement.

NATO's announcement followed a similar request from Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, who called Sunday for a day of peace during the elections.

He said the Afghan forces would halt all offensive operations, calling also on Taliban militants to let the people to come out and vote.

Taliban militants, whose government was toppled by a US-led military invasion in late 2001, have vowed to disrupt the election. The rebel group has also warned Afghans not to take part in the elections, or "be prepared to face death".

Around 200,000 Afghan security forces and more than 100,000 international troops will be providing security for the more than 6,500 polling stations. But given the size of the country, Afghan security officials admit it is difficult to cover it all.

Meanwhile, two rockets fired from Bagrami in the southern part of Kabul city hit near the fortified presidential palace, a police official in Kabul told DPA.

"Both rockets hit areas around the presidential palace, but fortunately there were no casualties," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A source from the presidential palace, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorised to talk to the media, said one of the rockets hit a tree inside the palace's compound, but caused no casualties.

It was rare attack in Kabul city, which is guarded by thousands of Afghan and international forces just two days before the nationwide presidential elections.

Rebels have fired rockets into Kabul twice this month, but there were no casualties in either instance.

Taliban also fired rockets at Nangarhar province's airport on Monday night, wounding at least ten civilians, Ajmal Pardes, head of the provincial public health department said.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, spokesman for the provincial governor confirmed the attack, but said there were no casualties among government forces in the province or damage to the airfield's premises.

In an apparent attempt to scare the Afghans and prevent them from taking part in the election, which is the second direct vote for the president in Afghanistan's recent history, Taliban militants have intensified their assaults in the past two weeks.

A Taliban suicide bomber attacked NATO's military headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, killing seven Afghan civilians and wounding more than 90 others including several NATO soldiers.