Three Militants Killed In Dramatic Kabul Battle During President's Speech

KABUL -- Afghan officials say three gunmen have been killed in central Kabul after they fired a barrage of rockets while President Ashraf Ghani was making a speech to mark the start of the Islamic Eid al-Adha holiday.

In a dramatic battle in the heart of the capital, Afghan Army helicopters flew above a mosque in Kabul’s old quarter on August 21 and at least one fired rockets at the militants' position.

Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish confirmed that the three militants were killed after they seized a building near the Eidgah Mosque.

Danish described the gunmen as "terrorists," but did not say whether they were Taliban fighters, Islamic State (IS) extremists, or militants from another group.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility regarding the militants, who fired rockets that exploded near the presidential palace in Kabul, near the U.S. Embassy compound, and near government buildings.

Ghani heard the explosions and interrupted his Eid al-Adha message to say: "If they are thinking the rocket attack will keep Afghans down, they are wrong. There are groups that continue the violence. With the firing of rockets, they cannot stop the development of the people of Afghanistan."

Altogether, officials report that at least 12 rockets exploded in the area.

Danish said there were no injuries from the rocket attacks. He said two Afghan police officers were wounded in the ensuing battle.

The clash came a day after a cease-fire offer from Ghani was rejected by Taliban commanders who vowed to continue their attacks.

Meanwhile, Afghan officials have confirmed that 20 hostages held by the Taliban in the northern province of Kunduz are members of the Afghan security forces.

A Taliban spokesman said they group were being held as “prisoners.”

They were among some 180 passengers who were removed from three buses that were passing through Taliban-controlled territory In Kunduz Province early on August 20.

About 160 of the hostages were freed and reached government-controlled territory by August 21.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and Tolo News