Taliban militants launched a series of attacks on as many as seven sites across the Afghan capital and in three other cites Sunday, targeting NATO bases, the parliament and Western embassies. A Taliban spokesperson said the coordinated attacks were the beginning of a major spring offensive.
The Kabul attack began with explosions in the diplomatic sector of the city where a NATO base is also located. Gunfire erupted soon after the blasts, forcing people caught in the street to scramble for cover.
Lieutenant Lauren Raga a spokesperson for NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed that several attacks were taking place in the Afghan capital.
“Reports indicate the attacks have taken place in the vicinity of the U.S., German, British embassies and the Afghan national security forces are responding as needed,” said Rago.
More than 10 explosions in all rocked the city, and heavy gunfire continued to be heard in the streets for hours after the first blast. Smoke rose over the skyline as sirens wailed.
The Kabul police chief, General Mohammad Ayub Salangi, said Afghan forces apprehended a number of suicide bombers before they could detonate their explosives.
He says two suicide attackers were arrested along with their planner, and in the Policharkhi area five suicide bombers were hiding in a private four-story building. He says three of them were killed and two are still resisting.
A Taliban statement claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying scores of suicide bombers were assaulting Afghan and NATO installations in three other provinces - Paktia, Nangarhar and Logar.
Militants holed up in one tall building were seen firing rockets in different directions, according to a witness on the scene. Some residents reported a blast near parliament as militants took over a nearby building and opened fire.
As the shooting went on, U.S. army convoys could be seen coming to the area accompanied by Afghan police in flak jackets.
The attacks were the most widespread 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 assaults also raised concerns about the Afghan security forces' ability to take responsibility for the country's security as the U.S.-led international force speeds up the handover in preparation for an end to the NATO mission in 2014.