-- Militants attacked and stormed a foreign guesthouse in Afghanistan's capital of Kabul today, setting off a deadly exchange with police and Afghan commandos that left at least two people dead.
The attack began after sunrise when a suicide bomber detonated outside the compound. Afghan police officials say the compound belonged to a foreign aid agency, but declined to give the agency’s name or say where it is based.
The attack took place in the Karte-Se, a quiet neighborhood in western Kabul that's home to a series of low-profile, western guesthouses.
After the suicide attacker detonated, at least two other militants stormed the building, eventually holing up inside the compound while Afghan commandos and police surrounded them outside.
For the next two hours, gunfire and periodic explosions rang through the cold Kabul night, as Afghan security forces attempted to get the militants out.
"We were playing football on the street. Suddenly we heard gunfire," Mohammad Idris, a local resident, told Reuters. "Right after the gunfire, police forces arrived, and I don't know what is going on."
All three militants were eventually killed, along with two NGO staff. It’s unclear whether the staff killed were locals or foreigners, or how many people were inside the compound at the time of the attack.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the compound was a Christian missionary center that was a front for intelligence gathering. The Taliban say the attack was timed to coincide with a meeting that included Australians who were visiting the compound.
This is the 11th attack in the last two weeks against foreigners in Kabul. Previous targets included a British vehicle convoy, a compound belonging to the aid agency International Relief and Development and a compound mostly housing foreign security contractors called Green Village.
The spike in violence is taking place ahead of the formal end of NATO combat operations in December. Earlier this month, President Obama signed an executive order that allows U.S. troops to engage the Taliban and other militants directly, without a request from Afghan officials to do so.