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Afghan Government Blames Taliban For Deadly Rocket Attacks In Kabul

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said that "the Taliban fired 24 rockets."

KABUL -- Afghanistan's government has blamed the Taliban for about two dozen rockets that hit residential areas of Kabul during the morning rush hour on November 21, killing at least eight people and wounding about a dozen more.

The violence occurred just hours before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Qatar with the negotiating teams of the Taliban and the Afghan government in an attempt to kick-start stalled peace talks.

It also comes two days before a major donor conference for Afghanistan was due to begin in Geneva.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said in a video statement that "the Taliban fired 24 rockets" into five different districts of Kabul, including areas close to the diplomatic enclave where foreign embassies are located.

Arian described the rocket attacks as "a clear sign of defeat on the part of the Taliban," adding that "revenge will be taken for this heinous act."

The Taliban promptly denied any involvement in the attack.

The Islamic State (IS) extremist group later on November 21 claimed that it carried out the rocket attacks on Kabul.

Call For Cease-Fire

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attacks and reiterated his call for a reduction in violence followed by a cease-fire.

Pompeo met separately with negotiators from the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha.

"I would be most interested in getting your thoughts on how we can increase the probability of a successful outcome," Pompeo said after meeting with the Afghan government side.

He also told members of the government's team that the United States will "sit on the side and help where we can" in the peace negotiations.

Pompeo is on a seven-nation tour of Europe and the Middle East following a U.S. presidential election that was lost by the incumbent, President Donald Trump.

He also met Qatar's ruler and foreign minister during his stop in Doha, which is the Taliban's base for diplomacy.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced it would soon withdraw about 2,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan, speeding up the schedule established in a February agreement between Washington and the Taliban that envisions a complete U.S. troop withdrawal in mid-2021.

Attacks by the Taliban and other extremist militants have been on the rise in Afghanistan -- and particularly, in Kabul -- since peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban stalled.

Early in November, gunmen stormed the campus of Kabul University and killed at least 35 people, most of them students.

More than 50 people were wounded in that attack, which was claimed by extremists in IS.

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation, a body that oversees the peace talks with the Taliban, condemned the latest attack in Kabul as a "cowardly" act.

He told AFP in an interview on November 21 during a visit to Turkey that while the talks in Doha haven't moved toward the "the main agenda," they are "very close" to getting to substantial issues such as security.

Abdullah held talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on November 20 in Istanbul as Afghanistan seeks support for the negotiations from Turkey.

Abdullah also said U.S. troops should withdraw from Afghanistan "when the conditions are met." He said the U.S. move to reduce its troops early next year will have "some impact" and the Afghan side "would have preferred it differently."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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