Karzai Is Uninjured As Rockets Hit Nearby

By Griff Witte and Javed Hamdard
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 11, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 10 -- The Taliban carried out an apparent attempt to assassinate Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, firing rockets that missed him by several hundred yards as he spoke to a group of elders.

No one was injured in the attack, and Karzai was able to complete his speech. But the incident underscored the threat the Taliban continues to pose 5 1/2 years after it was toppled from power in a U.S.-led invasion and three months into a major push by international forces to win back territory controlled by insurgents.

Sunday's attack occurred in the Andar district of Ghazni province, a hotly contested area about 100 miles south of Kabul. Karzai was in the middle of his speech when several rockets -- accounts varied from three to seven -- landed nearby. Security sources said at least some of the rockets landed within 100 to 200 yards of the president, but a witness at the scene said they struck at least a half-mile away.

Abdul Jabar, a member of parliament who represents Ghazni, said the rockets never came close to Karzai, and that he resumed his speech after taking a moment to quiet the crowd. Jabar said residents had known in advance that a high-level government official was coming to visit, although it was not widely known it would be Karzai.

In calls to news services, a purported Taliban spokesman asserted responsibility for the attack and said it had been plotted in advance after the group learned that Karzai would be coming to Andar.

Karzai, whose travel in Afghanistan has been severely restricted by two previous assassination attempts, was addressing a group of elders in a schoolyard at the time of the incident. Most schools in Andar have had to close because of security concerns.

"We Afghans will protect this land and its borders, as its protection by others is not possible," Karzai told the crowd, according to an account provided by his office. "We will build our roads, schools, hospitals and other institutions with the assistance of the international community, but this country must be protected by its sons."

Karzai's office said the "rockets did not disrupt the president's visit, and the program went according to plan," noting that he stayed in Andar after the speech to greet many in the crowd.

Violence in Afghanistan has picked up in recent weeks following the traditional winter lull. Clashes over the weekend in the northwest and the south left more than 60 people dead, most of them insurgents, security officials said. The British military said Sunday that one of its soldiers had been killed and four injured during an ambush in the southern province of Helmand.

According to a tally by the Associated Press based on official reports, about 2,200 people have died in Afghanistan this year in violence related to the insurgency.

Hamdard reported from Kabul.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company