5 rockets hit Afghan capital

KABUL: Five rockets slammed into Kabul at daybreak Tuesday, one of them falling near the U.S. Embassy in a rare attack on the Afghan capital less than three weeks before presidential elections, police and residents said.

The explosions, heard by AP reporters, occurred to the east of the city, toward the international airport and near several residential areas.

The impact of one of the rockets could be seen about 200 yards (meters) from the U.S. Embassy on a main road of central Kabul. It hit the house of a senior Interior Ministry official but caused no casualties, security officers said.

At the scene, Maj. Ghulam Rasul of the Afghan national army said he believed the five rockets that hit were of the long-range type that can be fired from several miles away. "The capital is closely guarded. They had to fire from far away," Rasul said.

Col. Fatih Uddin, the security chief at the damaged Interior Ministry house, estimated the building probably wasn't the main target of the attack.

"Of course, it seems that the target was more the American Embassy," Uddin said.

The U.S. Embassy strongly questioned whether this was the case.

"There's not indication these rockets targeted the U.S. Embassy," the embassy spokeswoman said. She requested anonymity because she was not authorized to release the information.

The rockets appeared to have hit various neighborhoods in the Afghan capital. At least one child was wounded, said Said Abdul Ghafar, the Kabul criminal police chief. There were no immediate reports on other casualties or damage.

A few rounds of sporadic gunfire followed the rockets. A police officer in eastern Kabul said that it was not clear why the shots had been fired but that security forces were all on alert. The police officer requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

"It was very loud, just as we were praying," said Kabul resident Ismail Khan, who said he was conducting Islam's dawn prayer when the rockets went off in close succession nearby.

Though bombings, suicide attacks and gunbattles frequently take place across much of Afghanistan, Kabul has been relatively spared from the violence for the past several weeks.

The rocket attack Tuesday came as Afghans braced for key presidential and local councilor elections later this month. The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the Aug. 20 vote, and 11 people were killed in a bombing Monday in Herat, western Afghanistan's largest city.

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.

July was the deadliest month for international troops since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban's hard-line Islamist government for sheltering al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.