The Taliban has launched a series of coordinated attacks across the Afghan capital and at least three eastern provinces, targeting Nato bases, parliament and foreign embassies in a complex assault that shows the insurgents can still penetrate Afghan security and hit Western and government targets in the heart of Kabul.
Suicide bombers and insurgents wielding heavy weapons and rocket-propelled grenades executed the near-simultaneous attacks in what the Taliban called an opening salvo ahead of the spring fighting season, when warmer weather typically brings increased attacks. One police officer and 17 militants died in the attacks.
The Taliban claimed that Afghan and foreign troops suffered heavy casualties, but reports from Afghan authorities said only militants were killed.
The Ministry of Interior reported that 17 insurgent fighters died in the attacks in Kabul, Paktia, Nangarhar and Logar provinces. One police officer was killed and 17 police were wounded - 11 in Kabul and three each in Logar and Paktia provinces, the ministry said. Fourteen civilians also were injured in the attacks. A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the attacks were a kind of "message" to the Afghan and foreign forces, warning them the insurgents remain strong and resilient.
The attack in Kabul began with more than a dozen explosions in the central neighbourhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, where a Nato base and a number of embassies, including the US Embassy, are located. Gunfire erupted soon after the blasts, forcing people caught in the street to scramble for cover.
Militants fired in several directions from a building under construction near an intersection of roads that lead to the presidential palace, various ministry buildings and several Western embassies. Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the US-led coalition, said insurgents took up positions mostly in unoccupied buildings outside of the heavily secured quarter that is home to military and diplomatic installations. He said the US, German and British embassies and some coalition and Afghan government buildings took direct and indirect fire.
Militants also attacked a Nato site on the outskirts of Kabul, where a joint Greek-Turkish base came under heavy fire and forces responded with heavy-calibre machine guns. A police officer said a suicide bomber inside a building near the base was shooting toward the Kabul Military Training Centre. Gen Mohammed Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Defence Ministry, said four militants were killed in that attack and one was arrested by Afghan National Army.
At roughly the same time as the Kabul attacks, Taliban fighters launched assaults on Afghan and Nato installations in the capitals of Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia provinces. In Nangarhar, four militants - some wearing burqas to disguise themselves as women - entered a coalition base at about 2pm local time. The base, near the provincial capital of Jalalabad, is home to a so-called Provincial Reconstruction Team, a joint civilian and military group that works on development and governance issues. The ministry said Afghan security forces gunned down all four of the militants.
At the same time, four other attackers travelling in a vehicle loaded with explosives were seen heading for an airport near Jalalabad. The vehicle blew up before it reached the airport. Three insurgents were killed in the blast. Police arrested a fourth fighter, who was injured, the ministry said. In Logar province, south of Kabul, five militants occupied a building under construction and started firing in several directions, the ministry said. Three police were wounded when the insurgents, who were all shot and killed, threw hand grenades on policemen responding to the scene. Four civilians also were wounded in the attack.
Farther south in Paktia province, a group of armed insurgents - some wearing women's clothes - entered a building near a police training center in Gardez. The ministry said the militants started firing in different directions. Five civilians and three policemen were wounded, while three attackers were killed.