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November 16, 2011

Afghan Officials: Insurgents Fire Rockets at Jirga in Kabul

Afghan officials say insurgents fired rockets toward a gathering of thousands of politicians, tribal elders and community leaders meeting in Kabul to discuss reconciliation with the Taliban and their country's partnership with the United States.

Officials said the attacks Thursday missed the site where the second day of the loya jirga, or grand council, was taking place.  However, one civilian reportedly was slightly injured.

Authorities said one of the rockets landed as close as one kilometer from the meeting site, exploding near the neighboring Intercontinental Hotel, while the second rocket hit farther away, breaking windows in a market area.

The Taliban claimed responsibility and authorities said they have arrested at least one person in connection with the attacks.

The militant group has threatened to disrupt the four-day meeting, where more than 2,000 influential Afghans are discussing key issues, including possible peace talks with the Taliban.

During a similar meeting in 2010, Taliban militants wounded three civilians in an attack near where the jirga was being held.

President Hamid Karzai told the opening of the loya jirga Wednesday that any strategic partnership with the United States would come with conditions, including more respect for Afghanistan's sovereignty and an end to night raids.

There are more than 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led coalition, mostly from the United States.  All international combat troops are due to leave the country by the end of 2014, but some U.S. troops are expected to remain in an advisory capacity.

Violence continues as foreign forces transfer security responsibility to their Afghan counterparts.

On Thursday, British officials said a roadside bomb killed two British soldiers in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of southern Helmand province.  Their deaths bring to 388 the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.