Afghans shrug off fresh Taliban attacks

Two rockets hit the presidential palace and police headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday, two days ahead of the presidential election. Hours later, a suicide car bomb killed at least 10 and wounded more than 53.

Kevin Frayer/AP
Afghan police and security gather next to destroyed cars at the scene of a suicide car bomb attack in the outskirts of Kabul, Tuesday. The bomber attacked a NATO convoy, killing at least seven civilians and wounding 50 people, including several international troops, officials said. A UN spokesman said three UN staff were also wounded.

Campaigning for Thursday's presidential elections has ended in Afghanistan for everyone involved except the Taliban, who once again launched dramatic attacks on the capital. The message they hope to convey: It's not safe to vote.

On Tuesday morning, two rockets hit the presidential palace and police headquarters, injuring two. Several hours later, a suicide car bomb killed one International Security Assistance Force service member, seven Afghan civilians, and two Afghan civilian employees of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. Two ISAF service members and 53 Afghan civilians were also wounded in the incident.

Afghan government officials faced questions from the media about their seeming inability to prevent militants from striking high-profile targets in the midst of beefed-up security in the run-up to the vote. Officials were frank that a 100 percent security guarantee cannot be given, but they argued that security precautions and the Afghan drive to vote would ultimately prevail.

"They will try to attack the polling stations and try to intimidate the people of Afghanistan," said Humayun Hamidzada, presidential spokesman. "But let us also not forget there are two important facts. One: the determination of the Afghan people to exercise their right in this historic day. And secondly: our own security preparations."

High voter turnout this spring

Mr. Hamidzada pointed out that large numbers of Afghans this spring defied the dangers and showed up to register for the elections.

"We have every reason to believe they will show up on election day and will not be deterred," he said. He added that he sees a positive side to the challenges: "This will give us an opportunity to demonstrate our resolve."

Like the car bombing Saturday at the ISAF headquarters, Tuesday's car bomb appeared to be quite large, knocking out windows in a 1,000-foot radius. The bomb struck within hundreds of feet of a British military compound, and also near the Independent Election Commission, the United Nations, and a US military base.

Eyewitnesses described a Toyota Corolla ramming into a convoy of foreign troops.

"I fell unconscious for a moment. When I woke up ... I saw people lying in the road and I tried to help," says Mohammad Ullah. "Later ISAF arrived there and surrounded the area and wouldn't allow anybody inside."

An hour after the blast, ISAF continued to keep out even Afghan Army and police units. At the scene of Saturday's blast, ISAF forces turned away the Kabul police chief in charge of security for elections.

Close coordination on security?

Asked how Saturday's incident represented the supposed "close coordination" between ISAF and Afghan security forces, the ISAF spokesman called it an "isolated event."

"It took the chain of command to say ... please let him in," says Gen. Eric Tremblay, ISAF spokesperson. "At the end, [the Afghan police] were there, they did the investigation, they took charge of the scene, and there was close coordination."

The rocket attacks, while far less deadly than the car bombings, add an additional element of psychological warfare in that Kabul suffered huge losses from rockets and shells during the civil war in the 1990s. Militants have fired more than half a dozen rockets into Kabul this month, including a few last week.

ISAF has a blimp flying over Kabul rigged with surveillance cameras. Asked how militants in the hills were able to take potshots on the city with the blimp watching overhead, Tremblay explained that it only sends back images of a small quadrant of the city at any given time.

Police face questions

Local police face tough questions as well, given that the suicide car bomb Saturday was let through one of their checkpoints. Tuesday's bomb may have come through a police checkpoint at a gateway into Kabul, about a mile to the east, or the bomb may have been constructed within the city limits.

"We can't hundred percent guarantee [security] and that guarantee can never be given in any part of the world," said Ezmari Bashiri, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry. "We will try our best to minimize the level of threats, and that's what we can do."

Maysam Njafizada contributed to this report from Kabul.

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