Militants killed in Kabul battle
Taliban militants have attacked the residence of a US charity and a nearby day care centre in Kabul, sparking a three-hour gun battle that unfolded as foreigners, including women and children, fled the scene, officials said.
The assault, which killed an Afghan girl caught in the crossfire, comes as foreigners are increasingly targeted in the Afghan capital as part of an overall surge in violence ahead of April 5 elections.
Authorities offered conflicting information as they worked to secure the area, but all agreed the violence started when a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of the gate of a guesthouse being used by the California-based Roots of Peace group.
The organization specialises in agricultural development and advises Afghanistan's Agriculture Ministry.
Roots of Peace issued a statement saying the attack started about 6pm and focused on its residence and a nearby day care centre in the Kart-e-Char neighbourhood, an affluent area in western Kabul located near the parliament.
It said there were casualties at the day care centre and five attackers and one child had been confirmed killed. It said two Afghan security guards and one foreigner were also wounded.
The US Embassy in Kabul said in a tweet that the group was supported by the US Agency for International Development. It condemned the attack "on an organisation that only seeks to help Afghans improve their lives and livelihood".
Mohammad Sharif Osmani, the country director for the group, said six staff members, including four foreigners and two Afghans, had been trapped inside.
About two dozen foreigners, including women and children, fled the area after the attack began, Interior Ministry spokesman Seddiq Seddiqi said. He said another foreign compound was next door and it was unclear how many people had been trapped inside the Roots of Peace house.
Mr Seddiqi said that besides the suicide bomber, four gunmen were killed.
Deputy interior minister Mohammed Ayub Salangi said an Afghan girl who happened to be nearby was killed. Mr Seddiqi said an Afghan woman and a driver died.
It was the latest in a series of high-profile attacks targeting places long considered safe havens for Westerners in the country.
Gunmen who evaded tight security last week sneaked into a luxury hotel in Kabul with pistols and ammunition hidden in their shoes, killing nine people, including two Afghan children, who were dining in the restaurant.
A Swedish journalist also shot dead in the street in a relatively affluent area earlier this month, and a Lebanese restaurant popular with foreigners was attacked by a suicide bomber and gunmen in January.
The Roots of Peace director did not identify the nationalities of the workers inside the building, but Mr Salangi said at least three were believed to be Americans.
Members of the Afghan National Police rapid reaction force, wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, cordoned off the area.
Witnesses say several houses caught on fire, possibly from the car bomb blast.
The upscale neighborhood is home to some of the candidates in next month's elections for president and provincial council. It did not appear that they were the targets, although the Taliban have stepped up their attacks ahead of the April 5 polling
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said insurgents attacked a "guesthouse of foreigners and a church of foreigners".
"Attacks will continue and we will keep on killing foreigners," he said in a statement to the media.