Rocket hits palace two days before Afghan vote

A Taliban rocket struck the grounds of Afghanistan's presidential palace today, just two days before incumbent Hamid Karzai seeks re-election in tense polls that could go to a second round.

Not only is Karzai fighting for a fresh mandate, but the election is also a test of US President Barack Obama's strategy of escalating the eight-year-old conflict in an effort to reverse recent Taliban gains.

In a speech yesterday aimed at bolstering public support, Obama called the Afghan conflict "a war worth fighting".

Election campaigning officially ended at midnight after a final day that saw hectic rallies in support of Karzai and his main rival, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Polls show Karzai likely to win Thursday's vote, but not with the outright majority required to avoid a second round. He is relying on the last-minute support of former guerrilla chieftains in a bid to tip the balance.

His main rival Abdullah, an urbane eye doctor, has run an energetic campaign, seeking to garner support from beyond his base in the mainly ethnic-Tajik north.

Several small rockets were fired overnight at the capital and a police source said one caused some damage inside the sprawling, fortified presidential palace compound, while a second hit the capital's police headquarters. Neither caused any casualties.

Other rockets hit the eastern city of Jalalabad, including one that hit a house, wounding ten people, provincial government spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said.

In the northern Jowzjan province, gunmen shot dead a provincial council candidate, Murdian district chief Abdullah Radmanish said.

Militants who have vowed to disrupt Thursday's election have fired rockets at the capital twice this month. On Saturday they detonated a massive suicide bomb outside the headquarters of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in central Kabul, killing seven people and wounded dozens more.

Such attacks have been rare in the capital this year.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a message sent to Reuters via mobile phone, claimed the fighters had fired four rockets, but gave no further details.

Recent polls give Karzai about 45 percent of the vote to 25 percent for Abdullah. Since the polls were conducted, Karzai has secured the last-minute endorsements of some former militia chieftains, hoping they help secure a first round victory.

Karzai's reliance on the ex-militia leaders has raised alarm among his international backers worried that warlords could return to power in the country they dominated for decades.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek militia leader who won 10 percent of the vote in 2004, returned to the country from exile in Turkey and held a huge pro-Karzai rally in his northern home city of Shiberghen on Monday.

The United States and the United Nations both expressed concern that Dostum could return to government. Washington said he may have been responsible for human rights violations.

Karzai's two vice presidential running mates are also former militia chiefs, from the Tajik and Hazara minorities. Last week he received the public endorsement of Ismail Khan, a former militia leader in the western city of Herat.

Taliban disruption could hurt Karzai's chance of a first-round win by lowering turnout in southern areas most affected by the insurgency, heartland of the Karzai's support.

More than 30,000 extra U.S. troops have arrived in Afghanistan this year, raising the total number of Western troops above 100,000 for the first time, including 62,000 Americans.

The Western troops will maintain outer perimeter security during the election, with Afghan soldiers and police guarding towns and polling stations. The Nato-led Western force said on Tuesday it would refrain from conducting offensive operations on election day, in line with an earlier pledge from Afghan troops.

If Karzai fails to secure victory in a first round, he would most likely face Abdullah in a second round in early October.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent