KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Insurgents fired two rockets Thursday toward a site where more than 2,000 Afghan elders are attending a national assembly to discuss the future of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, officials said. Both rockets missed their target, but one man was injured.
No one claimed responsibility for firing the rockets, but the Taliban had threatened to disrupt the gathering — called a loya jirga, or grand council.
"Everybody knows that they are trying to hit the jirga, but instead innocent civilians were the victims," Mohammad Shafi said standing near where one rocket landed with a thud at about 8 a.m. "If the jirga weren't going on, there would have been no rockets. If the man loses his hand, who will feed his family?"
Security for the four-day jirga is tight. Much of Kabul went into a lockdown mode ahead of the meeting and some foreigners working in Kabul were not allowed to travel around the city. Roads were closed and intelligence agents swarmed the meeting hall on the outskirts of the capital.
At the last such meeting — a "peace jirga" in June 2010 — Taliban fighters wearing suicide vests fired at a tent holding some 1,500 dignitaries, lawmakers and civil society activists. The assault triggered a battle with security forces that killed at least two militants. President Hamid Karzai, who was delivering a speech at the time, brushed off the interruption and urged fighters to lay down their arms
Since then, a new hardened structure has been built at the jirga site.
Karzai spoke Wednesday on the opening day of the meeting where the elders are discussing negotiations under way for a U.S.-Afghan agreement to govern the presence of U.S. troops after 2014, when most international forces are to have left or moved into support roles.
Karzai asked the elders to back negotiations for a new security pact, assuring them that he would demand an end to unpopular night raids in which troops swoop down from helicopters and search Afghan homes. He said U.S. troops should be allowed to stay, but that the night raids should end and that the Afghan government, not Americans, should be put in charge of detainees.
On Thursday, delegates to the jirga met in more than 40 committees to discuss the issue. Subghatullah Mujaddedi, the head of the jirga who briefly served as Afghanistan's president in 1992, said he hoped the talks will provide "useful guidance for us and for the Americans."
Lawmaker Sayed Jamal Faquri, a delegate from Bamiyan province, said a majority at the jirga were in favor of having a strategic partnership agreement with the United States, but a minority argued it would look as if Afghanistan was occupied by America.
Karzai doesn't need the elders' permission to broker a pact with the U.S., but he wants their stamp of approval to strengthen his negotiating position.
So far, Karzai's terms have been unacceptable to American officials. The U.S.-led coalition has given no indication that it is willing to stop the raids, and says the night operations, which are conducted with Afghan security forces, are an effective way to keep pressure on militants.
Kabul police criminal director Mohammad Zahir said one person was wounded in Thursday's attack.
One rocket landed on a hillside about half a mile (kilometer) from the meeting site. The other landed farther away in an open area, shattering a few windows in buildings near where merchants were selling vegetables and fruits.
"Me and my four friends were drinking tea and suddenly we heard an explosion," said Shafi, a 28-year-old taxi driver. "We didn't know if it was a bomb or a rocket."
Shafi said he helped a man whose left hand was bleeding find a ride to the hospital.
Ashmat Stanekzai, a spokesman for Kabul police, said police later arrested a man suspected of firing the rockets. He said the suspect was seen driving away from a place on a hillside where the rockets were launched.
Separately, Britain's military said two of its soldiers were killed Thursday in a roadside bombing in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Helmand province in the south. The deaths bring to 388 the number of British military personnel killed in Afghanistan since the start of operations there in 2001.
So far this year, 507 NATO service members have been killed in Afghanistan, including at least 379 Americans.
The U.S.-led coalition also said more than 25 insurgents were killed after they attacked coalition and Afghan troops with guns and rocket-propelled grenades Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. The troops called in NATO aircraft, which killed the insurgents in Nazyan district of Nangarhar province.
Also in Nangarhar, an insurgent shot two government workers who were driving in a vehicle in Chaparhar district, said provincial spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai. One died and the other was wounded, he said.