Afghan President Ghani's Inauguration Ceremony Rocked by Explosions

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's inauguration ceremony was interrupted by the sound of explosions Monday after a suspected rocket attack claimed by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

Ghani was delivering a speech at the podium outside the presidential palace in the capital Kabul when the explosions were heard, causing the recently re-elected leader to pause and stirring a brief panic among attendees. The president returned to the mic and stated he would not be intimidated by a suspected attack.

The Afghan president then opened his suit to reveal he was not wearing a bulletproof vest and announced that he would sacrifice himself for his country and its people. The source of the explosions and the number of injuries was not clear.

Hours later, ISIS' official news agency Amaq published a statement claiming that "soldiers of the caliphate targeted the inauguration of the tyrant (Ashraf Ghani) near the presidential residence in the (fourth) district of the city of Kabul with ten rockets, and the injury was delivered, praise be to God."

The blasts came as the country is struggling to overcome ongoing unrest in the wake of a historic peace deal signed by the United States and the Taliban.

Three weeks ago, Ghani, was declared the winner in September's vote, which took place despite threats by the rival Taliban militant group that does not recognize the central government in Kabul. For more than 18 years, the U.S. has fought the Taliban as part of the longest war in the country's history and, following successive rounds of talks, the warring parties signed a peace agreement on February 29.

Violence has persisted, however, ahead of the first scheduled talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government and as ISIS' local branch, known as ISIS-Khorasan or ISIS-K, continues to conduct its own insurgent campaign.

"The United States strongly supports a unified and sovereign Afghanistan and is engaged in intensive efforts for peace," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said later Monday in a statement. "We condemn today's terrorist attack in Kabul."

afghanistan, president, ceremony, explosions, ghani
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (C) reacts following loud explosions heard during his swearing-in at the inauguration ceremony as the country's leader, at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on March 9. Afghanistan lurched deeper into political crisis on March 9 as the rivals for the country's leadership had themselves sworn in at simultaneous ceremonies that were interrupted by at least two blasts. AFP/Getty Images/WAKIL KOHSAR

ISIS-K claimed responsibility Friday for a deadly shooting that targeted a ceremony commemorating the 25th anniversary of the death of Hazara Shiite political leader Abdul Ali Mazari, who was slain by the Taliban. Pompeo then too issued a statement in response to the recent attack, which killed up to 32 people and injured dozens more.

"The United States condemns in the strongest terms today's despicable ISIS-K attack on a Kabul gathering held to commemorate a revered Shiite martyr," Pompeo said. "Attacking the innocent and defenseless at a memorial event is a sign of weakness, not a show of strength. Our thoughts are with victims and their families, as well as the brave Afghan security forces who defended against the terrorists."

"The Afghan people deserve a future free from terror," he added. "The ongoing Afghan Peace Process presents a critical opportunity for Afghans to come together to build a united front against the menace of ISIS."

The U.S. has also engaged in hostilities against the Taliban in the weeks since the peace was signed. After the agreement was announced, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesperson Colonel Sonny Leggett confirmed Wednesday on Twitter that the U.S. "conducted an airstrike on March 4 against Taliban fighters in Nahr-e Saraj, Helmand, who were actively attacking an #ANDSF checkpoint," an acronym used to refer to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

A political dispute continues to plague Kabul itself too as Ghani's main rival also appeared to swear in as president Monday. Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah held a rival ceremony at the palace after accusing Ghani of winning their tight election through fraud.

"No one should have underestimated our commitment to genuine democracy & our resolve to uphold rule of law," Abdullah tweeted ahead of the ceremony. "Our track record of self-denial & compromise should not have given cause to anyone to take us for granted. Invalidation of all fraudulent votes is the way out!"

Abdullah's current position was created after a dispute with Ghani over the country's last presidential election in 2014, which saw former President Hamid Karzai step down after nearly 13 years in power. The longtime leader assumed the presidency just days after the post-9/11 U.S.-led intervention overthrew a Taliban-controlled government harboring Al-Qaeda, which was formed during the CIA-backed mujahideen war against a Soviet-backed communist administration in the 1980s.

The U.S. military has remained in the country ever since the 2001 intervention, battling the Taliban as an insurgent force. As per their recent peace agreement, all foreign forces are set to eventually withdraw from Afghanistan in exchange for intra-Afghan peace talks and the guarantee that international jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS cannot use the country to attack other nations.