Suicide attackers target Afghanistan peace meeting in Kabul
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The Taliban has mounted a gun and rocket attack on an Afghan peace conference in Kabul. Officials said two attackers were killed and one captured. The three-day conference, hosted by President Hamid Karzai, was designed to bring together Afghanistan's complex mix of ethnic and tribal factions.
The aim of the conference is to seek consensus within the disparate country on how to end nearly nine years of war with the Taliban – despite the fact that they are not in official attendance.
Addressing 1,600 delegates and Western diplomats at the ‘peace jirga,’ Karzai's opening speech was interrupted by the sound of rockets and gunfire. At least five distinct explosions were heard and three rockets landed close to the venue.
The attack was unsuccessful, but officials confirmed that suicide bombers wearing explosives hidden under women's burqas had infiltrated the site.
The conference has since resumed and Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said "the area is under our control now and is cleared."
"Two attackers aged between 17 and 20 years had managed to come to the area using burqas and had entered a house under construction,” said Bashary, adding that one of them was killed on the first floor and another on the third floor.
He declined to identify the security forces involved but added that a third potential attacker was taken into custody.
The president appealed to delegates to advise him on how to bring the poverty-stricken country, blighted by three decades of war, out of the current conflict and encourage the Taliban to disarm.
After his address, Karzai left the event, travelling in his armoured convoy. The near-miss attack raises questions as to whether security in Afghanistan is tight enough.
Paul Rodgers, a Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University told RFI that although the conference was guarded by some 12,000 security personnel, rockets landed just 100 metres from the main tent, “illustrating the lack of security overall.”
He added that this “suggests that the Taliban and other paramilitary groups do have still have a lot of power, even now.”
Afghanistan’s ally, the United States, described the jirga as a milestone in country's political maturity. International analysts have criticised the conference as more symbolic than politically useful, however.
Taliban’s refusal to enter peace talks until all of the 130,000 foreign troops deployed in the country have been expelled, shows that “the insurgents feel that they are to some extent in a position of strength,” said Rodgers.
The number of US and NATO troops is set to peak at 150,000 by August. The deployment of further troops is part of a strategy designed to reverse Taliban momentum and boost government authority in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
“The more foreign troops that go into Afghanistan there are, the more opposition to their presence there is. What is intended to produce a better climate of negotiation may be having the opposite effect," said Rodgers.
President Barack Obama has said he wants to start decreasing the number of troops in the country from the middle of 2011.
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