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August 5, 2009

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Rockets hit Kabul to end calm

A STRING of rockets slammed into Kabul at daybreak yesterday in the first major attack on the relatively calm Afghan capital in the run-up to this month's presidential election, police and residents said.

A suicide bomber also killed five people and wounded 18 in southern Afghanistan yesterday, and a provincial governor escaped injury in an attack on his convoy.

Afghan officials said at least eight rockets hit Kabul, one damaging a senior Interior Ministry official's house near the United States Embassy.

A Taliban spokesman claimed militants fired nine rockets at the international airport and two at an Afghan military headquarters, in a neighborhood of embassies and government buildings, to show that the government cannot ensure security.

"We are in control," Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press by telephone, warning the Taliban could fire more rockets at the capital before the elections.

President Hamid Karzai has done minimal campaigning ahead of the August 20 vote but traveled yesterday to the eastern city of Gardez, the scene of an assault by Taliban militants that killed six Afghan police and intelligence officers late last month.

July was also the deadliest month for international forces since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and nine NATO troops have been killed so far this month.

NATO's governing body approved a plan yesterday to reorganize the alliance's command structure in Afghanistan by setting up a new headquarters to handle the day-to-day running of the war.

Some 101,000 NATO and US forces are deployed to secure the country. This includes a record 62,000 US troops, more than double the number a year ago.

Karzai's only mention of the US or NATO military efforts was a call for Western forces to release hundreds of Afghans detained by Western forces on suspicion of involvement with the Taliban and held without charge, often for months or years.

A handful of large-scale attacks have targeted government ministries and an international hotel in Kabul but the capital has been mostly spared the bombings, suicide attacks and gunbattles common across Afghanistan.


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