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Gunbattle Erupts in Afghan Capital

A Taliban assault targeting several government buildings in Kabul has left at least five people, two civilians and three security personnel dead and more than 70 wounded. Afghan officials say security forces killed all the seven attackers. Taliban extremists claim to have launched the well-coordinated assault.

Authorities say Taliban insurgents carrying automatic weapons and wearing suicide vests attacked several heavily guarded official buildings in the center of the Afghan capital.

Their plan apparently was to try to seize key ministries and to storm the presidential palace. But senior Afghan officials say the militants failed to do so because security personnel deployed in the area instantly detected and killed one of the suicide bombers. The rest of the attackers then took shelter in the nearby shopping center..

Afghan security forces quickly surrounded the commercial buildings and a four-hour gunfight began. When it ended, a written statement from President Hamid Karzai announced the security situation was under control and order had been restored to the city. He condemned the attacks and ordered authorities to enhance security in the capital.

Giving details of the incident at a news conference, Afghanistan intelligence service chief Amrullah Saleh said seven armed men took part in the attack and all of them were killed by the Afghan security forces. He praised security forces for preventing what could have been a major disaster.

"By sacrificing their lives, our fallen colleagues and those who bravely stood against these terrorists and sustained injuries, they managed to save lives of ... (Afghan) civilians," Saleh said. "Today's attack was in no way a success for the enemy. They cannot claim credit for entering into a shopping mall and just blindly shooting at the civilians."

The intelligence chief would not comment on reports the attackers had come from neighboring Pakistan. U.S and Afghan officials believe the Haqqani network of Afghan militants has set up its bases in the tribal region of Pakistan to train and launch cross-border suicide missions.

"We do not want to speculate," Saleh said. "Once we are able to show you the evidence of who they were and where they were trained and what they were planning. What I promise to you, like other incidents in the past, we will produce you soon the evidence and most likely the remaining part of the cell and you will see who they are."

Taliban insurgents are reported to have claimed responsibility for the assault, saying 20 of their fighters took part in the attacks and the presidential palace was one of their targets. Officials say President Karzai was swearing in new members of his Cabinet when the violence broke out.

The attack is said to be the worst such incident in Kabul within the past year. In October, armed men with suicide vests raided a United Nations-run guest house in the city, killing at least 11 people.

The violence comes as President Karzai is preparing to take party in an international conference on the future of Afghanistan later this month (January 28) in London. Officials say the Afghan leader plans to announce a new initiative to encourage Taliban fighters to lay down their arms.