US opens peace talks with Taliban
President Hamid Karzai has said the US and Afghan governments have held talks with Taliban emissaries in a bid to end the war which has raged for nearly 10 years.
He spoke as suicide attackers launched a bold assault in the heart of the county's capital, killing nine people.
The attack, which happened close to Mr Karzai's office, showed the parties have a long way to go to reach a political settlement as US President Barack Obama's administration weighs a major withdrawal of its forces. The White House neither directly confirmed or denied Mr Karzai's statement.
Three men wearing camouflage fatigues that are frequently worn by Afghan soldiers stormed a police station near the presidential palace, with one of them detonating an explosives vest just outside the gates as two others rushed inside and began firing, said an Interior Ministry statement.
The crackle of gunfire echoed through the usually bustling streets for about two hours before security forces killed the two remaining attackers. Insurgents killed three police officers, one intelligence agent and five civilians in the attack, according to the ministry statement.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to The Associated Press.
Attacks in the Afghan capital have been relatively rare, although violence has increased since the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid in Pakistan and the start of the Taliban's annual spring offensive.
The attack happened shortly after Mr Karzai announced that members of his peace council and the US have begun preliminary peace negotiations with the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan for five years and sheltered al Qaida before being driven out of power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.
Reports about such talks have surfaced in recent months, but Mr Karzai's statement was the first public confirmation of US participation. Publicly, the Taliban says there will be no negotiations until foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
"In the course of this year, there have been peace talks with the Taliban and our own countrymen," Mr Karzai said. "Peace talks have started with them already and it is going well. Foreign militaries, especially the United States of America, are going ahead with these negotiations."