Taliban target NATO, US embassy in Kabul

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Taliban gunmen armed with suicide bombs and heavy weaponry on Tuesday launched coordinated attacks in Kabul, targeting NATO’s headquarters, the US Embassy and the Afghan intelligence agency.
Gunfire and blasts engulfed what is usually the most heavily protected part of the Afghan capital. The attacks were the latest sign that security has drastically deteriorated in Kabul, where insurgents have staged increasingly brazen commando-style raids on Western targets, such as on the British Council two weeks ago.
AFP reporters first heard a string of loud blasts shortly after 1:30pm (0900 GMT) close to the NATO headquarters and the adjoining US embassy. Afghan police and soldiers attempting to approach the Abdul Haq roundabout about half a kilometre from the NATO base were retreating under a volley of mortar rounds, gunfire and explosions, the reporter said.
A Western military official confirmed NATO’s International Security Assistance Force headquarters was one of the targets under attack. “ISAF HQ is under attack at the moment,” the source said, as terrified residents and shopkeepers described how they dived for cover to save themselves.
The US embassy could not confirm that its compound was under attack but said staff had been ordered to take cover. A Taliban spokesman told AFP by text message that the target was ISAF headquarters, the US Embassy and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and other sensitive government places.
If confirmed, simultaneous attacks on ISAF, the US Embassy and the NDS would be the Taliban’s most ambitious commando-style operation to date in their fight to evict the Kabul government and defeat tens of thousands of Western troops.
Afghan police said that among the attackers were up to five who were hunkered down in a tall building under construction, exchanging fire with security forces from several floors with two ISAF helicopters flying overhead. An Afghan army base is nearby, as is a Marriott hotel building site, a witness added.
US Embassy spokeswoman Kerri Hannan says staff had been ordered to take cover in hardened structures as gunfire and explosions rocked the area in the heart of the Afghan capital. She says there are no casualties at this time among embassy personnel.
The ISAF headquarters in Kabul oversees the operations of the bulk of the estimated 140,000 foreign troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Residents told how they were forced to run for cover when a series of explosions shattered the early afternoon quiet.
Officially Kabul is under the control of Afghan security forces, along with most of its surrounding province and six other parts of the country handed over by NATO-led troops in July as part of a staggered, timetabled withdrawal. The insurgency has reached its deadliest phase over the past two years.