Blasts, gunshots as Taliban raid Kabul diplomatic quarter
Multiple blasts and gunfire rocked Kabul's diplomatic quarter as the Taliban pressed a deadly assault near the Spanish embassy in the early hours of Saturday, officials said, the latest high-profile insurgent attack.
At least one person, a Spanish policeman, was confirmed dead in the ongoing raid, which comes just hours after President Ashraf Ghani voiced optimism that a peace process with the Taliban would resume within weeks.
Security men near the embassy ducked from gunshots as they hauled away a limp body and two wounded men -- one bleeding from the head, the other a policeman with a gunshot wound to his leg -- through the dark to a waiting ambulance, an AFP photographer saw.
Nearly six hours after the brazen raid began, a series of fresh blasts and a volley of gunshots ripped through the area as security forces battled with the insurgents.
The embassy was earlier reported to be the target of the attack, but Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy clarified that the assault was nearby and not on the compound.
"It was an attack against some guesthouses very near the embassy," Rajoy said, confirming a Spanish policeman had been killed and all embassy staff had been evacuated.
The Emergency hospital in Kabul tweeted that seven wounded Afghans had been received for treatment.
The attack follows a deadly 27-hour Taliban siege of Kandahar airport this week as the militants ramp up attacks despite the onset of the harsh winter season, when the fighting usually winds down.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for Friday's attack, saying the target was a foreign guest house.
Afghan special forces had cordoned off the area in Sherpur district in central Kabul, where a huge car bomb struck during rush hour on Friday evening, followed by sporadic bursts of gunfire.
The powerful blast sent a thick plume of smoke into the sky, as ambulances and fire brigades with wailing sirens rushed to the scene.
Sherpur is home to several foreign NGOs and the residences of senior government officials, including controversial former warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan's first vice-president.
- 'Expecting talks is foolishness' -
The attack comes just days after President Ghani's high-profile visit to Pakistan, where he shored up international support to restart peace talks with the Taliban.
As Ghani held talks in Islamabad on Wednesday, at least 50 people were killed in a marathon Taliban siege of Kandahar airport, the largest military installation in southern Afghanistan.
Eleven suicide attackers breached the high-security complex, which also houses a joint NATO-Afghan base, taking families hostage and triggering pitched firefights with soldiers.
As the country grappled with the aftermath, Afghanistan's spy chief on Thursday quit his post, laying bare disagreements with Ghani over his diplomatic outreach to Pakistan, long blamed for nurturing the Taliban.
The resignation of Rahmatullah Nabil on Thursday highlighted the domestic backlash Ghani faces over his attempts to repair strained relations with Islamabad.
The president has staked considerable political capital in advocating bonhomie with Afghanistan's neighbour.
Ghani shrugged off Nabil's criticism on Friday, saying Pakistan had promised to go after Taliban factions that refuse to stand down.
"Without positive support from Pakistan, won't the war in Afghanistan keep dragging on?" Ghani asked a press conference on Friday.
"The time has come for different Taliban factions to choose peace... the talks will start in the coming weeks."
But the Taliban rebuffed his remarks.
"The mujahideen are making rapid military gains, capturing territory and destroying enemy centres," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid wrote on Twitter.
"Expecting us to surrender and come for talks is foolishness."
© 2015 AFP