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Terror in Afghanistan as Taliban attacks Kabul

By Kim Sengupta

Cities and towns across Afghanistan came under sustained attack and parts of the capital were under siege yesterday in a co-ordinated offensive by insurgents.

Multiple explosions and heavy machine-gun fire echoed through Kabul as bombers and gunmen targeted areas where the parliament, foreign embassies and Nato's headquarters are based.

The raids, which resulted in President Hamid Karzai being forced to go into “lockdown” in his residence, were the latest outbreak of violence which has continued for weeks, leaving dozens dead and injured and raised questions about the West's exit strategy from the long and bloody war.

While firefights continued in Kabul following the first blasts in the early afternoon, there were suicide strikes at a US military base in Jalalabad as well as Gardez in the east and at Logar province near the capital, with militants attempting to storm the offices of the army, police and the intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security.

The British embassy in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul was one of those targeted, with two rockets hitting a guard tower, usually manned by Gurkha guards, and a rocket-propelled grenade smacking into a house used by diplomats.

A group of foreign analysts, working for the UK-based company Adam Smith International, were trapped inside a Ministry of Commerce building which partially collapsed after being hit by heavy rounds.

By late afternoon the Afghan government claimed that 14 insurgents had been killed while 14 police officers and nine civilians were injured.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks with spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid saying that it was the start of the spring offensive.

But last night Afghan and Western officials were saying that there were indications that it was the handiwork of the Haqqani network, which carried out the last major assault on diplomatic missions in Kabul in September, lasting for almost 20 hours, and which is believed to have ties to the Pakistani military and secret police.

The attacks in Afghanistan came a day after the Taliban freed 400 prisoners in Pakistan's North Waziristan area.

A police chief in the area insisted that such an operation could only have been mounted with official collusion.

The scene in Kabul through the afternoon yesterday was one of chaos and fear with members of the public, including mothers and children, running through gunfire.

The current round of Afghan strife began in February with the burning of Korans and a US serviceman killing 17 villagers in March.

The fear of ‘an enemy within’ for Nato forces rose with a number of lethal incidents of Afghan policemen and soldiers turning their guns on their supposed allies.

In a Kabul attack in February, an Interior Ministry employee shot dead two US advisers, leading to the withdrawal of Western personnel from government departments.

Soon afterwards a dozen suicide vests were found in the ministry, primed for detonation. More than 15 security personnel were arrested.

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