Afghan capital awakes to more insurgent attacks

An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. The Taliban launched violent attacks in Afghanistan on Sunday and early today. Enlarge photo

Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press file photo

An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. The Taliban launched violent attacks in Afghanistan on Sunday and early today.

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Afghan capital awoke Monday to a second day of explosions and heavy gunfire as Afghan-led forces worked to defeat insurgents holed up in one building in the heart of the city and another near parliament.

As darkness turned to dawn, Afghan-led forces fired one rocket-propelled grenade after another into a building in the center of the city where insurgents began their attack Sunday in the capital and three eastern cities. The Taliban’s boldest and most complex assault in years lasted more than 17 hours.

Fighting had subsided by 7 a.m., but sporadic gunfire could still be heard near the parliament building.

The Taliban began their near-simultaneous assaults on embassies, government buildings and NATO bases at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, saying it was their response to NATO officials’ recent claims that the insurgency was weak.

Authorities said one police officer and at least 17 militants were killed in the multi-pronged attacks, which showed the Taliban and their allies are far from beaten and underscored the security challenge facing government forces as U.S. and NATO forces draw down. The majority of international combat troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.

The U.S., German and British embassies and some coalition and Afghan government buildings took direct and indirect fire, said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition.

Local residents near the parliament building said rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire rocked their neighborhood through the night and into the morning.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said militants took up position in a building under construction near parliament. Some lawmakers grabbed weapons and started fighting when militants fired on the parliament building on Sunday.

Local residents reported gunfire and explosions Monday morning, but Sediqi said the militants’ standoff with Afghan security forces had ended.

Reporters for The Associated Press witnessed the Monday morning assault on another building under construction near the presidential palace, western embassies and Afghan ministries.

Shortly before 3 a.m., coalition helicopters began flying over the building. At 4:23 a.m., a religious cleric began calling Muslim worshippers to prayer over a loudspeaker in the area. During the next 15 minutes, troops launched five rocket-propelled grenades into the building. More attacks came after that.

The loud booms from the blasts momentarily silenced chirping birds. Red and white flashes could be seen inside the various floors of the multistory building. By about 6:30 a.m., the blasts and shooting had stopped.

An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, said an operation to clear the building was nearly completed. The official said one insurgent was still defending the building, but that at least four other militants had been killed.

The first explosions on Sunday rocked the diplomatic quarter of Kabul. Soon gunshots and rocket-propelled grenade fire were ringing across the city. Smoke rose over the skyline as sirens wailed. A loudspeaker at the U.S. Embassy could be heard barking: “Duck and cover. Move away from the windows.”