KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Taliban suicide attackers struck at
the national peace conference as it opened Wednesday in the Afghan
capital, waging gunbattles near the venue. At least two attackers
were killed but no delegates were hurt, officials said.
The attack, including rocket fire, started minutes after
President Hamid Karzai began his opening address to some 1,600
dignitaries gathered for the conference, in which he appealed for
rank-and-file Taliban members to stop fighting for the sake of the
The Taliban, which had earlier threatened to kill anyone who
took part, claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to
The Associated Press, saying they intended to sabotage the
The conference, known as a peace jirga, continued despite the
Karzai hopes it will bolster him politically by endorsing his
strategy of offering incentives to individual Taliban fighters and
reaching out to the insurgent leadership, despite skepticism in
Washington about whether the time is right for an overture to
But the attack underscored the weak grip of Karzai's government
in the face of the Taliban insurgency, which has grown in strength
despite record numbers of U.S. forces in country.
In his speech, Karzai said years of violence and infighting had
caused widespread suffering that had driven many ordinary Afghans
to join the Taliban and another major insurgent group,
Hizb-i-Islami, out of fear. He appealed to them to renounce
"There are thousands of Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami, they are not
the enemies of this soil," Karzai said.
He said continuing fighting would only prevent the withdrawal of
international forces from Afghanistan.
"Make peace with me and there will be no need for foreigners
here. As long as you are not talking to us, not making peace with
us, we will not let the foreigners leave," Karzai said.
About 10 minutes into his speech, Karzai was briefly interrupted
by an explosion outside, which police said was a rocket. Karzai
heard the thud, but dismissed it, telling delegates, "Don't worry.
We've heard this kind of thing before."
Soon afterward, an AP reporter nearby heard a loud explosion and
saw smoke rising from a second apparent rocket attack that struck
about 100 meters (yards) from the venue, a huge tent pitched on a
Bursts of gunfire could be heard to the south of the venue, and
security forces rushed to the area. Helicopters flew overhead.
Farooq Wardak, a government minister responsible for organizing
the jirga, said three militants dressed in burqas, carrying
explosives and armed with guns and at least one grenade launcher,
were involved in the attack. He said two died in fighting outside
the venue and one was captured.
However, Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said all
three attackers were killed.
Kamaluddin, a police officer in the area where the conflict
happened who uses one name, said one of the attackers blew himself
up during the battle.
Abdul Gaffar Saidzada, chief of criminal investigation for Kabul
police, said three police were wounded in the fighting. No
civilians were hurt.
Wardak said the militants operated from a building about one
mile (1.5 kilometers) away from the venue.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid gave a slightly different
account of the attack. He said four suicide attackers disguised in
Afghan army uniforms opened fire in an attempt "to sabotage and
destroy this peace jirga."
While militants are strongest in the volatile south of the
country, where NATO forces are preparing a major operation in the
Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, insurgents have repeatedly shown
they can strike in the heavily defended capital as well.
"Unfortunately this shows the weakness of the government, and
the weakness of the security forces, that they were unable to
provide enough security for this consultative peace jirga," said
Abdul Sattar Khawasi, a lawmaker attending from Parwan province.
A prominent civil society activist was skeptical the conference
could help bring peace. Delegates include individuals with links to
militants but not active members of the Taliban and other insurgent
"I'm not very hopeful that we will come up with a workable
mechanism to go for peace. The reason is we don't have the
opposition with us. It's obvious from their attacks," said Sima
Samar, the head of the Afghan Human Rights Commission.
Wardak rejected Taliban claims the jirga was stacked with Karzai
supporters and designed to rubber-stamp the president's plans for
reconciliation. He said the possibility of opening talks with the
Taliban would only be pursued if the idea was supported by broader
"This jirga is to advise the government who we can talk to and
who we cannot talk to," he said.
The Obama administration supports overtures to rank-and-file
insurgents but has been skeptical of a major political initiative
with insurgent leaders, believing that should wait until
accelerated military operations have weakened the Taliban on the
battlefield. U.S. officials believe the Taliban leadership feels it
has little reason to negotiate because it believes it is winning