KABUL — Explosions and gunfire rocked the Afghan capital Kabul Sunday as suicide bombers struck across Afghanistan in coordinated attacks claimed by Taliban insurgents as the start of a spring offensive.
The German and Japanese embassy compounds were reported hit as militants attacked the city’s diplomatic enclave and tried to storm parliament — sparking a gunbattle in which lawmakers and bodyguards fired back from the rooftop.
The embassies of the United States and Britain were also targeted, the spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, General Carsten Jacobson, said.
“We have confirmed attacks on the US, the German and British embassies and had earlier reports of attacks on the Russian embassy,” he told Al Jazeera television.
“And on the road to Jalalabad we had attacks on the military installations, primarily against the main Turkish location in town.”
Outside the capital, militants attacked government buildings in Logar province, the airport in Jalalabad, and a police facility in the town of Gardez in Paktya province.
The attacks will raise fears over the precarious security situation in Afghanistan as NATO prepares to withdraw combat troops by the end of 2014.
At least three attackers were killed in Kabul, and three others died when they detonated their car-bomb in Jalalabad — injuring several people — officials and police said, as fighting continued.
Militants were still launching rocket propelled grenades and exchanging fire with security forces as evening fell, an AFP reporter at the scene in Kabul’s embassy enclave said.
A Taliban spokesman said “a lot of suicide bombers” were involved in the attacks, which herald the annual fighting season that follows Afghanistan’s harsh winters.
Zabihullah Mujahed, the Taliban spokesman, told AFP by phone from an unknown location, that the attacks were a message to the Kabul government and its Western military backers.
“The Kabul administration and the invading forces had said some time ago that the Taliban will not be able to launch a spring offensive. Today’s attacks were the start of our spring offensive,” he said.
NATO has about 130,000 troops supporting the government of President Hamid Karzai against the Taliban insurgency, but they will pull out by the end of 2014, handing control of security to Afghan forces.
A spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) told AFP that Afghan forces, whose ability to withstand the Taliban after 2014 has been questioned, were taking the lead in countering the assaults on Kabul.
But the latest in a series of spectacular attacks shows militants still have the ability to strike at the heart of the capital.
In September last year Taliban attacks targeting locations including the US embassy and headquarters of foreign troops in Kabul killed at least 14 during a 19-hour siege. And in August, nine people were killed when suicide bombers attacked the British Council cultural centre.
A German foreign ministry spokesman said in Berlin that the “grounds of the German embassy” had sustained damage Sunday but that “as far as we know (there have been) no injuries”.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency said three rockets landed in the Japanese embassy but nobody was hurt and staff had evacuated to a nearby air raid shelter.
US embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall said the building was in lockdown but all staff were accounted for and safe, with no reports of injuries.
And the British Foreign Office said in London that all British embassy staff in Kabul were “accounted for”.
“I was in my car repairing workshop when I saw two suicide bombers armed with RPG’s and rifles,” said witness Mohammad Zakir.
“One of them started shooting on the spot and killed an intelligence employee. The second one occupied a building under construction building and started firing rocket propelled grenades at the Kabul Star Hotel, German, US and UK embassies,” the 27-year-old said.
Several attackers tried to enter the Afghan parliament but were engaged by security forces and driven back, parliamentary media officer Qudratullah Jawid told AFP. They had taken cover in a building near the parliament, he said.
MP Mohammad Naeem Lalai told AFP lawmakers joined the security forces in firing on militants as they tried to storm the parliament, which was in session.
A police spokesman said the areas under attack in Kabul were the diplomatic enclave of Wazir Akbar Khan in the centre, parliament in the west and District Nine in the south, where there are several foreign military bases.