September 10, 2019 7:47 pm

Rocket explodes at U.S. Embassy in Kabul on 9/11 anniversary

WATCH: What a troop withdrawal would look like if the U.S. and Taliban reach an agreement

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A rocket exploded at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan just minutes into Wednesday, the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the United States, but officials at the compound declared all-clear about an hour later and reported no injuries.

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A plume of smoke rose over central Kabul shortly after midnight and sirens could be heard. Inside the embassy, employees heard this message over the loudspeaker: “An explosion caused by a rocket has occurred on compound.”

READ MORE: Trump’s decision to halt U.S.-Taliban talks pushes Afghanistan towards vote

There was no immediate comment from Afghan officials. The NATO mission, which is nearby, also said no personnel had been injured.

It was the first major attack in the Afghan capital since U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly called off U.S.-Taliban talks over the weekend, on the brink of an apparent deal to end America’s longest war.

Two Taliban car bombs shook Kabul last week, killing several civilians and two members of the NATO mission. Trump has cited the death of a U.S. service member in one of those blasts as the reason why he now calls the U.S.-Taliban talks “dead.”

WATCH: Trump says talks with Taliban ‘dead’

The 9/11 anniversary is a sensitive day in Afghanistan’s capital and one on which attacks have occurred. A U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan shortly after the 2001 attack toppled the Taliban, who had harbored Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader and attacks mastermind.

In the nearly 18 years of fighting since then, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan soared to 100,000 and dropped dramatically after bin Laden was killed in neighboring Pakistan in 2011.

Now about 14,000 U.S. troops remain and Trump has called it “ridiculous” that they are still in Afghanistan after so long and so many billions of dollars spent.

It is not clear whether the U.S.-Taliban talks will resume.

UN envoy: ‘imperative’ to start Afghan Taliban talks

The U.N. envoy for Afghanistan said Tuesday it is imperative for direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to start quickly, and he urged the militant Islamist group to retract its threat to disrupt the upcoming presidential election.

Tadamichi Yamamoto told the Security Council that the events of recent days and weeks “have shown, more than ever, the urgency of finding a political settlement to the long Afghan conflict.”

Yamamoto spoke three days after Trump abruptly halted U.S.-Taliban talks. The cancellation put a spotlight on the Sept. 28 presidential election.

READ MORE: Taliban warn of more American deaths after Trump ends peace talks

The U.N. envoy said opportunities for peace over the past year “created hope, but also fear for many,” and made clear that the conflict can only be resolved by direct talks involving “the whole spectrum of Afghan society.”

“It is imperative therefore that direct talks between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban commence as soon as possible,” Yamamoto said.

He urged the parties to the conflict and all those interested in peace to keep working to bring about direct talks.

WATCH: Kabul Taliban bombing kills 16 and injures dozens

Recent informal talks between the Taliban and representatives of Afghan society in Doha and Moscow addressed some key issues for peace, Yamamoto said. He expressed hope this would be carried forward and deepened.

Peace efforts must address and lead to a reduction in violence and an eventual cease-fire, he said.

But, Yamamoto added, “any political settlement must include a promise to continue to protect and advance human rights and fundamental freedoms for all who live in Afghanistan, including those of women, youth and minorities as well as the freedom of expression and the media.”

READ MORE: U.S. Secretary of State says Taliban ‘overreached’ in attack that killed U.S. soldier

Yamamoto said security, voter turnout and fraud are major challenges for the presidential election.

While the Afghan government’s technical and operational preparations for the elections are on track, he said, “we still hear much anxiety expressed by Afghan citizens particularly in view of the Taliban’s stated threat to disrupt the electoral process, especially by targeting civilians participating in the elections.”

Stressing that attacks on voters and polling stations are “clear violations of international law,” Yamamoto urged the Taliban to withdraw its threat. And he urged the government to provide adequate security to safeguard the electoral process.

WATCH: Pompeo defends U.S. meeting for peace talks with Taliban amid cancellation

Yamamoto said 9.6 million people have registered to vote, but turnout could be affected by security worries.

“Credible elections would provide an important political foundation for the future of the country as well as legitimacy and authority to the elected president, which would be particularly important in view of the expected peace process,” he said.

Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador, Adela Raz, said that despite security threats and challenges, the Afghan people “are determined to hold and participate in the elections.”

READ MORE: Trump uses Twitter to call off secret meeting with Taliban leaders

Raz, the country’s first female ambassador, urged the Security Council to call on countries with influence on the Taliban “to respect the aspiration of every Afghan, and prevent them from attacks on the election day.”

She said the government remains committed to peace talks, stressing that any agreement must be endorsed by the Afghan people and ensure an immediate cease-fire and the preservation of the gains and achievements of the past 18 years.

Raz singled out Afghanistan’s “democratic values, the republic, and in particular, the rights of women as stipulated in our constitution.”

WATCH: U.S. military ready to pull out nearly half of troops in Afghanistan as part of cease fire with Taliban

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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