Taliban Launch Intense Attack in Heart of Kabul
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan and coalition forces battled Taliban militants who launched three brazen assaults Tuesday across the city, including a dramatic attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO's command in central Kabul.
Three police officers have died and others have been injured in the violence, police said. The Afghan Public Health ministry said one civilian was killed and at least 18 were wounded but none seriously.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told CNN that his group targeted "the U.S. Embassy, governmental organizations and other foreign organizations."
The strike occurred amid intelligence that insurgents might launch a high-profile attack in the capital around the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, a coalition officer and a senior ISAF official confirmed to CNN.
There have been numerous attacks targeting U.S. embassies and consulates. This is a list going back to 1998.
Militants opened fire near the U.S. Embassy and NATO's International Security Assistance Force headquarters after they stormed a building under construction, U.S., NATO and Afghan officials said.
ISAF said the insurgents attacked the "vicinity" of the sites using small arms and rocket-propelled grenades. An ISAF official said there are initial reports that some rounds hit the NATO base and caused minor damage.
ISAF said Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces immediately responded and were at the scene. Coalition forces were providing air support.
A senior ISAF official said there are fewer than 10 insurgents involved in the attack, which was launched from an area outside the secure zone surrounding both areas.
The Afghan Interior Ministry said four suicide attackers entered the building site from which the attack is being carried out. Two of them were killed and two were "resisting." CIA Director David Petraeus, testifying at a congressional hearing in Washington Tuesday, said Afghan forces were clearing the building.
The building is next to Abdul Haq Square, a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy, an intelligence officer told CNN.
An embassy spokeswoman said staff at the U.S. facility had been told to take cover.
"The U.S. Embassy can confirm an attack has occurred in the area of the U.S. Embassy" by people armed with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms, spokeswoman Kerri Hannan said.
A U.S. Embassy worker, who asked not to be named for security reasons, called the assault "well-coordinated" and said there was incoming fire around every corner of the building.
After a few hours of loud and intense fire, he said, the situation appeared to calm down. He said the people at the embassy were well-protected by the guards there.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there were no reports of U.S. casualties and the country "will take all necessary steps" to secure the area and keep personnel safe.
She said the "dedicated, brave men and women" from the United States who work for the Afghan people "will not be intimidated" by this cowardly act.
Central Kabul is considered a high-security area, and it is protected by police and other security forces. ISAF said that it doesn't appear insurgents breached the sector around the sites.
ISAF personnel currently are being told to stay indoors and take cover but there are no casualties, the official said. Gen. John Allen, ISAF commander, remains on the compound, ISAF said.
The Afghan National Directorate of Security and the Interior Ministry spokesman said a firefight with insurgents was ongoing. Militants were using rocket-propelled grenades and light weapons. A hospital official said two injured civilians were being treated and the hospital expects to handle more casualties.
The area has been cordoned off, according to Gen. Mohammed Zahir, the head of criminal investigation for the Afghan police.
The coalition and ISAF officials pointed out that while this attack is considered to be high-profile because of the U.S. embassy and ISAF targets, it so far is not considered a "spectacular" attack because of the small number of gunmen and limited weapons involved.
Other violence was also reported.
In a Twitter message, ISAF said a "suicide attacker was identified & killed by ANP before reaching target near Kabul airport," making reference to the Afghan National Police. There were no further details.
The Taliban said a suicide attack targeted a police compound in the western part of the city, but the Interior Ministry said the attacker -- clad in an explosives vest -- was shot before he entered the compound. Another attacker set off a bomb in front of a high school, the ministry said. Casualties were reported in both incidents.
The U.S. Embassy issued an emergency message about the series of attacks across Kabul Tuesday, saying "the situation is uncertain and ongoing. There are media reports that many roads are closed in Kabul." It said appointments for visas or U.S. citizen services have been canceled for now and it said Americans in Afghanistan should monitor the websites of the embassy and the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs for the latest information.
"We urge U.S. citizens to shelter in place, avoid unnecessary movement, and to avoid the neighborhood around the U.S. Embassy: Wazir Akbar Khan, Microrayon, and Massoud Circle," it said.
"The Embassy also urges U.S. citizens to remain vigilant and avoid areas where Westerners congregate. Do not discuss travel plans or other personal matters with strangers, or in public. Be alert and aware of your surroundings, and always travel with mobile phones or appropriate communication equipment."
These are the latest attacks by the Taliban in a violent period. Over the weekend, two Afghan laborers were killed, and 77 U.S. troops and 25 Afghan workers were wounded in a Taliban truck bombing on an ISAF base in Afghanistan's Wardak province.
Last month, Taliban suicide bombers killed at least eight people in Kabul when they attacked the British Council, a British-government-affiliated body that fosters cultural and academic exchanges.
The Taliban harbored the al Qaeda network that launched the 9/11 strike. A U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban and has been fighting militants in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years.
NATO is drawing down and handing over security control to national forces. Some 10,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to depart by year's end, with all U.S. military personnel out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Vygaudas Usackas, head of the European Union mission in Afghanistan, were among those who condemned the attacks.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Taliban attacks in Kabul Tuesday were an attempt to derail plans to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces in Afghanistan.
"We are witnessing that the Taliban try to test (the) transition but they can't stop it. Transition is on track and it will continue," Rasmussen said.