KABUL - A string of rockets slammed into Kabul at daybreak Tuesday 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.
Afghan officials said at least eight rockets hit the city, one damaging a senior Interior Ministry official's house near the U.S. Embassy.
A Taliban spokesman claimed they had 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 in the capital.
"We are in control," Zabiullah Mujahid told The Associated Press by telephone, warning that the Taliban could fire more rockets at the capital before the elections.
Kabul Spared from Terror Attacks
In recent years Kabul has been mostly spared the bombings, suicide attacks and gunbattles common across much of Afghanistan, although a handful of large-scale attacks have targeted government ministries and an international hotel.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the Aug. 20 vote.
Eleven people were killed in a bombing aimed at a police official Monday in western Afghanistan's largest city, Herat, which also had been comparatively peaceful.
Rockets Wound Man and Child
Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said a final police count showed that eight rockets were fired Tuesday, wounding a child and a man.
He said the rockets had come from Deh Sabz, an area about five miles (eight kilometers) northeast of Kabul. The Deh Sabz district police chief, Mohammad Haydar Tayeb, said police found a ninth, unexploded rocket there.
He said police suspect the terrorists fled after activating a crude timing device that uses slowly dripping water to conduct electricity from a car battery to the rocket launchers.
Tayeb said several suspects have been arrested and handed over to intelligence services.
Afghan National Army Maj. Ghulam Rasul said he believed the Taliban had fired BM1 rockets, which can be shot from portable launchers several miles (kilometers) from their target.
Capital 'Closely Guarded'
"The capital is closely guarded. They had to fire from far away," Rasul said.
One rocket hit a road in front of home of Gen. Gul Nabi Ahmedzai, the chief of police training for the Interior Ministry. The early hour of the attack meant the normally busy street was almost empty, avoiding more civilian casualties.
"There's no indication these rockets were targeting any particular site in Kabul," U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Fleur Cowan said. She said the embassy had not implemented any special security measures Tuesday beyond its usual response in cases of indirect fire.
Standing outside the Interior Ministry official's damaged home, witness Abdul Wali Zai said the rockets wouldn't affect Kabul residents, who experienced three decades of fighting, including rocketing that killed thousands of civilians as rival warlords clashed after Russian forces left the country in 1989.
A few rounds of sporadic gunfire could be heard shortly after the rockets.
U.S. Troops More than Doubled
Some 101,000 NATO and U.S. forces are deployed to secure the country. This includes a record 62,000 U.S. troops, more than double the number a year ago.
Nine NATO troops have been killed in fighting or bombings this month, including three Americans on Sunday and three on Saturday, along with two Canadians and one French.
With 74 troops killed, including 43 Americans, July was the deadliest month for international forces since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban's hard-line Islamist government for sheltering Osama bin Laden.
Associated Press Writer Amir Shah contributed to this report.
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