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Militants Fire Rockets At Kabul Ahead Of Presidential Election

Taliban militants fired at least eight rockets into Kabul in an attack they said was aimed at disrupting preparations for Afghanistan's August 20 presidential election.

It was the biggest coordinated rocket attack on the Afghan capital since 1996, when the Taliban used rocket barrages, tanks, and artillery to seize Kabul and establish their regime.

The pre-dawn barrage on August 4 came just as devout Muslims were performing their morning prayers. The assault injured one child and at least one other Kabul resident.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid confirmed that Taliban fighters had launched the barrage. He said the attack was meant to show that the Afghan government does not control security around Kabul ahead of the presidential election.

He also said the rockets had been aimed at Kabul's international airport and at the headquarters of the Afghan army.

But Zemarai Bashary, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, says the rockets struck several residential districts across the city, shattering the windows of homes from the city center to the eastern part of the capital.

Footage on Tolo-TV, a private Kabul-based television channel, showed several houses and a car with windows blown out in downtown Kabul.

Many residents of Kabul say the attacks will not affect the city ahead of the elections. But Feroz Khan, who survived a direct hit on his house, said the barrage reminded him of the early 1990s, when rival Afghan militia fought against each other for control of Kabul -- killing thousands of civilians with rockets and destroying much of the city.

"If the situation continues like this, no one will go to vote on election day,” Khan said. “Who should we vote for? Today a rocket hit my house. Tomorrow it will hit another house. No one will know. Why should we vote? This situation will make us leave the country once again."

Makeshift Weapons

The rockets were fired from the Deh Sabz neighborhood on the northeast outskirts of Kabul. Afghan police rushed to that area as soon as the first rocket exploded. They found a ninth rocket that had not ignited and managed to defuse it before it was launched.

Bashary's description of the launch site suggests the rockets were aimed in a haphazard manner typical of Taliban rocket attacks elsewhere in the country.

Crude launchers are fashioned from sticks shoved into the ground -- allowing a rocket to be propped up and pointed in the general direction of a target. But the attackers have no real control over the rocket’s direction.

Timers used for such attacks often rely on cheap battery-operated clocks that are connected to the ignition system. That allows a few militants to quickly set up the crude launching systems and flee before the launch, escaping any retaliatory attack.

Afghanistan has seen a rise in election-related violence in the last two weeks -- including a string of attempted ambushes and bombings aimed at candidates, campaign officials, and election offices.

Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a controversial factional leader and President Hamid Karzai’s vice-presidential running mate, was targeted by a roadside bomb attack recently but escaped without injury.

In another attempted assassination, Mohammad Halim Fedaye -- governor of Maidan Wardak Province just west of Kabul -- was targeted by a roadside bomb on August 4 as his convoy was traveling on the western outskirts of Kabul. He also escaped unhurt.

On August 3, a roadside bomb attack claimed by the Taliban killed at least 12 people in the normally peaceful western city of Herat, an important commercial hub near the Iranian border.

Karzai is seen as the leader in a field of 41 presidential candidates. The election is considered a landmark step in U.S. and NATO-led efforts to provide security and build democracy in Afghanistan.

More than 100,000 NATO and U.S. forces are now deployed in the country -- including 62,000 U.S. troops, more than double the number a year ago.

Eighty-three foreign soldiers have been killed in security operations since the start of July, the deadliest month for international forces in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.