KABUL, Afghanistan Jan. 18, 2010 -- In a well co-ordinated and brazen attack, insurgents attacked the heart of Kabul today, targeting the presidential palace, several ministries and a luxury hotel popular with foreigners and visiting politicians.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack saying they sent 20 fighters into the city, some wearing suicide vests. When the fighting ended more than three hours later, the Afghan government said 10 insurgents were killed.
Gunfire erupted shortly before 10 a.m. and at least five explosions were heard in the capital, with plumes of smoke rising into Kabul's sky. The attackers detonated explosions near the ministries of justice and finance. There were also unconfirmed reports that some attackers managed to get onto a roof of one of the shopping malls, the Feroshgah e Afghan Shopping Center, which overlooks all of these ministries.
The ministries as well as the presidential palace and the Serena Hotel are located within the same neighborhood in downtown Kabul.
More than 200 members of the Afghan security forces poured into the area to combat the insurgents.
The Afghan Ministry of Defense said two policemen were killed in the operation and 10 Afghan National Army soldiers and 18 members of the Afghan National Police were wounded. In addtion, 35 civilians, including an undetermined number of women and children, were injured in today's attack, officials said.
The search for the attackers as well as the effort to rescue those injured is ongoing.
The attack came on a day that President Hamid Karzai swore in new members of his cabinet. The assault also came at a critical point for the country. The U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, was here recently in an effort to bolster support for President Karzai's government.
Today's Taliban offensive was the latest in a growing number of attacks in Kabul.
Responding to today's attacks, Holbrooke said, "It is not surprising that Taliban are doing this sort of thing. They are desperate people, they are ruthless. People who are doing this will certainly not survive the attack nor will they succeeded. But we can expect this sort of thing on a regular basis. That is who the Taliban are."
International Conference on Afghanistan
Holbrooke, who spoke to reporters in New Delhi, India, is preparing for a conference on Afghanistan in London later this month. The conference is aimed at getting support for Afghanistan from the international community as well as increasing the Afghan role in taking over their own security.
Aleem Agha contributed to the reporting of this story.