KABUL (Reuters) - Four Taliban insurgents armed with assault rifles and a grenade launcher stormed a guesthouse in the diplomatic quarter of the Afghan capital overnight and held out for hours until they were killed by government forces early on Wednesday, officials said.
No casualties other than the attackers were reported, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister General Ayoub Salangi said. Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said the guesthouse was owned by a prominent Afghan political family that includes Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani.
The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack after it ended and said numerous “invaders” had been killed, although it often makes exaggerated claims about casualties in attacks against Afghan government and foreign targets.
The Islamist group, which has been waging an insurgency since it was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001, considers the foreign presence in Afghanistan an invading force and the Afghan government a puppet regime.
The Afghan capital has been hit by a series of high-profile attacks on foreigners and government targets over the past two weeks, deepening concerns over whether Afghan security forces can cope after most foreign troops left at the end of 2014.
Salangi said at least one rocket-propelled grenade launcher and three AK-47 assault rifles were seized after the attack in the heavily guarded Wazir Akbar Khan district had ended.
More than a dozen blasts were heard by Reuters witnesses in the first hour of the attack, while bursts of gunfire and explosions continued until a clearance operation was launched at day break more than five hours later.
Police chief Rahimi declined to identify the occupants of the guesthouse, which Afghan and Western security sources said is known to accommodate foreigners as well as Afghans.
Teams of elite Afghan security forces responded to the attack in an upscale part of the capital where many embassies and government buildings are located. Police vehicles set up roadblocks to stop vehicles from approaching the area.
The late Burhanuddin Rabbani served as president of Afghanistan in the 1990s. Salahuddin Rabbani is his son.
The recent escalation in high-profile Kabul attacks started two weeks ago, when the Taliban attacked the Park Palace hotel and killed more than a dozen people. Most of the casualties were Afghan civilians, although an American, a British-Afghan national, four Indians, an Italian and a Kazakh were also among the dead.
NATO’s 13-year combat mission officially ended in December and the small contingent that remains is mostly focused on training Afghan security forces.
Afghan civilians, however, are bearing the brunt of the bloody conflict that has escalated around the country as foreign troops have withdrawn.
An EU vehicle was bombed near Kabul’s airport a few days after the Park Palace attack, killing a British security contractor and at least two Afghan civilians.
Last week, at least five Afghans were killed and dozens more wounded by a car bomb in the parking lot of the Afghan Ministry of Justice.
Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Edmund Klamann and Paul Tait