TALIBAN gunmen armed with suicide bombs and heavy weapons yesterday launched co-ordinated attacks in Kabul, targeting NATO’s headquarters, the US embassy and the Afghan intelligence agency.
About five hours after the attack began just after 1.30pm (7pm AEST), gunbattles were continuing two days after the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The Afghan government confirmed the deaths of one policeman and two insurgents, and said up to four militants were still resisting. Five civilian and three policeman were wounded.
Two suicide attacks also struck police in the most heavily protected part of the capital, with the Taliban insurgency at its deadliest since a US-led invasion ousted the Islamist regime in 2001.
Witnesses said some of the attackers had taken up a position in a tall half-complete building behind the US embassy and NATO’S main military base in the Afghan capital, from which they started firing.
Local TV showed people fleeing down streets near the Australian embassy, which is located near the US mission.
BBC correspondent Quentin Somerville tweeted that a rocket had landed 100m from the BBC office in Wazir Akbar Khan.
He said US marines were on the roof of the embassy and sirens could be heard from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
“ISAF HQ is under attack at the moment,” a Western military official confirmed as terrified residents and shopkeepers told how they dived for cover.
“I was sitting in my shop when suddenly I heard an explosion and then another one. Then there was gunfire,” said a local shopkeeper.
“People on the streets started running. I had to leave my shop to get to safety.”
The Taliban were quick to take responsibility, saying insurgents conducted a massive suicide attack on local and foreign intelligence facilities.
The city has been on a heightened security alert following a series of attacks including on the British Council last month.
Any simultaneous attacks that succeeded in hitting NATO headquarters, the US embassy and Afghan intelligence would be the Taliban’s most ambitious commando-style operation yet in their fight to evict the Kabul government and defeat Western troops.
The US embassy — one of the largest American diplomatic missions in the world, one of the most heavily protected compounds in Afghanistan and home to hundreds of diplomats — confirmed only an attack “in the area”.
“There are no casualties at this time among embassy personnel,” said spokeswoman Kerri Hannan.
Afghan interior ministry spokesman Siddiq Siddiqui said that two attackers were killed while “three or four are still resisting”.
“A clearance operation is ongoing. So far one policeman has been martyred,” he said.
ISAF later confirmed it was responding and providing “air support” but reported no casualties.
In Brussels, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen initially said he was confident that Afghan forces, who officially control security in Kabul, could deal with the ongoing assault.
Afghan officials said two separate suicide attacks targeted police, one near parliament and both in the western part of the capital, which would suggest that up to eight attackers were involved.