- NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghan Parliament and private residences all reportedly being targeted
- Taliban claim responsibility and say it is start of a ‘spring offensive’
- Palace compound of President Hamid Karzai comes ‘under attack’
- Rocket-propelled grenade fired at house used by British diplomats
- Five dead after string of attacks in Iraq
PUBLISHED: 05:41 EST, 15 April 2012 | UPDATED: 12:25 EST, 15 April 2012
There was carnage on the streets of Kabul today as the Taliban unleashed a ‘spring offensive’ that saw the foreign embassies targeted in attacks that left at least two people dead.
The British Embassy was one of several buildings that were bombarded by rocket-propelled grenades in coordinated attacks across the capital of Afghanistan.
The American Embassy was placed on lockdown as the blasts erupted in the central neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan.
At least seven sites across the Afghan capital were targeted including NATO headquarters, the parliament and diplomatic residences. Militants also launched near-simultaneous assaults in three other eastern cities.
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Insurgents followed up the strikes with an attack the heavily-guarded Palace compound of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said. There was no independent verification of the claim.
The attacks, which are the worst since U.S. and Afghan forces removed the group from power in 2001, intensified throughout the day.
Large explosions and heavy automatic gunfire continued to rock central Kabul as dusk approached, continuing a nearly five-hour gunbattle in locations across the country and in the diplomatic enclave of the capital.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the carnage, saying in a statement that scores of suicide bombers were assaulting Kabul and three other provinces.
A spokesman told Al Jazeera that the violence marked the start of their annual spring offensive which heralds the fighting season, adding that ‘a lot of suicide bombers’ were involved.
The spokesman added that the carnage was also a retaliation against U.S. troops who burned the Koran earlier this year.
There was also speculation that the insurgents are displaying their military strength ahead of elections in 2014 and a military withdrawal.
Wazir Akbar Khan is home to the NATO base, as well as a number of embassies, including that of the U.S.
Gunfire erupted soon after the blasts, forcing people caught out in the street to scramble for cover.
An Afghan security official secures the site after a shooting incident in Kabul today . Right, smoke pours from a nearby hotel after it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade
More than 10 explosions in all rocked the capital, and heavy gunfire shook the city for two hours after the initial blast. Smoke rose over the skyline from a few spots as sirens wailed.
The attacks were the most spectacular in the heavily guarded capital since September, and demonstrated the insurgents’ resolve heading into the spring fighting season, when warmer weather typically brings increased attacks.
The scale and scope of the violence also underscored the Afghan security forces’ struggles to protect even the heart of national power as the U.S.-led international force speeds up the transfer of security responsibility ahead of the end of the NATO mission in 2014.
In an e-mailed statement, Mujahid said the attacks were targeting NATO headquarters, the British and German Embassies, the Afghan parliament building, the Serena and Kabul Star hotels, and sites along Darulaman road, where the Russian Embassy is located.
At the same time, Taliban fighters launched assaults on Afghan and NATO installations in the capital cities of Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia provinces, he said.
‘In all these attacks, tens of mujahedeen fighters equipped with light and heavy weapons, suicide vests, RPGs, rockets, heavy machine guns and hand grenades are attacking their targets,’ Mujahid said in an email.
‘Our initial reports indicate that a large number of foreign forces, Afghan police and army are killed and wounded.’ The Taliban regularly exaggerate casualty figures.
The American Embassy said in a statement saying that there were attacks ‘in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy.’ The German Foreign Ministry said there was some damage in the grounds of the German Embassy, but it did not appear that anyone had been hurt.
Militants holed up in a tall building were firing rockets in different directions, according witnesses. It was not immediately clear what they were targeting, but shots appeared to be focusing on the nearby British Embassy.
Britain’s Foreign Office could not provide details of the attack.
‘We can confirm that there is an ongoing incident in the diplomatic area of Kabul,’ a spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. ‘We are in close contact with embassy staff.’
Across town, residents reported a blast near the parliament building.
An official at the parliament, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said an attacker entered a nearby building and opened fire on parliament and the Afghan Commerce Ministry. The official reported hearing a large blast coming from the building. After that, the gunfire subsided.
Militants also fired mortars at the area around a NATO base on Jalalabad road on Kabul’s outskirts, according to witnesses. A Greek-Turkish base came under heavy fire and forces were responding with heavy-caliber machine gun fire.
A police officer said a suicide bomber had occupied a building near the bases and was shooting toward the Kabul Military Training Center there. The officer spoke anonymously because he was not an authorized spokesman.
FIVE DEAD AFTER ATTACKS IN IRAQ
Iraqi officials say attacks across the country including a car bomb in a northern city have left five people dead.
Security official Hallow Najat from Kirkuk said that the explosion near the city’s university killed one and wounded 15, one of three attacks Sunday.
Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir, who is a security official in the same province, says a roadside bomb hit the car of a leader in the Sahwa anti-al-Qaida Sunni militias, killing his son, in the town of Hawija.
Meanwhile, gunmen blew up a Shiite family’s house in the Sunni-dominated Taji area, killing three and wounding two others, police and health officials said on condition of anonymity.
Violence has ebbed in Iraq, but Sunni insurgents still launch attacks to challenge the Shiite-led government.
It is not yet known if the attacks in Iraq are related to those that have hit Kabul today.
At least five people were wounded in the violence across the city, said Kabir Amir, head of Kabul hospitals.
Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said two suicide attackers have been killed – one who was firing from a building under construction behind the Kabul Star Hotel and one in a building under construction near the parliament.
The coordinated assaults showed a sophistication that is reminiscent of the last sustained attack in the heavily guarded capital in September 2011.
In that strike, six fighters with heavy weapons took over an unfinished high-rise and fired on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters about 300 meters (yards) away. They then held out against a 20-hour barrage by hundreds of Afghan and foreign forces.
By the time the fighting ended, insurgents had killed 16 Afghans – five police officers and 11 civilians, more than half of them children. Six or seven rockets hit inside the embassy compound, but no embassy or NATO staff members were hurt.
Fighting was also continuing Sunday in the provincial assaults in Jalalabad city, Logar province and Paktia.
‘In Jalalabad city, four attackers were killed,’ the Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediqi said. ‘In Logar province, the attack is still going on and the area is surrounded by police. In Paktia, the area has been surrounded by police, but a gun battle continues.’
In the city of Pul-e-Alam in Logar province, police chief Ghulam Shakhi said militants had entered a building that belongs to the education department, which is near a building used by the Afghan intelligence service, and a gunbattle was under way.
In Paktia province, militants were shooting sporadically from a building across from a university in the city of Gardez, said the deputy provincial police chief Mohammad Zaman. He said Afghan security forces have surrounded the building. The deputy governor, Abdul Rahman Mangal, said they believe two or three suicide bombers are involved in the attack.
In Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province, would-be suicide bombers launched separate attacks on the military airfield used by NATO and Afghan forces and a smaller NATO base nearby. Four attackers wearing suicide vests tried to storm the entrance to the airfield in a vehicle, but were fought off by NATO forces there. Three were killed and one escaped, said Amir Khan Lewal, deputy provincial police chief.
At the nearby base, two attackers were shot dead before they could breach the bases defenses, but there was also an explosion inside the base, Lewal said. It was not immediately possible to reconcile his figures with those of the Interior Ministry.
NATO said it was aware of reports of an explosion in the proximity of a coalition installation near Jalalabad but could provide no details about the blast.