KABUL: NATO troops joined a fight against a Taliban suicide squad that stormed a Kabul police headquarters at dawn Monday, killing three police officers and unleashing a stand-off that lasted for more than eight hours.
The Taliban claimed the attack, which turned into the longest stand-off between the insurgents and security forces in Kabul since a major co-ordinated raid on the capital lasted 18 hours in April last year.
Three of the five attackers were killed in the early part of the assault while two others wearing suicide vests holed up in the five-storey building in west Kabul and fired on security forces, a police officer told AFP. They were later also killed. "It's over. The last two terrorists are dead and they were not even given the chance to detonate their suicide vests," Kabul police chief General Mohammad Ayoub Salangi told AFP.
The reason it took so long to overpower the last two men was "because our boys acted very carefully," he said. "There were lots of important documents so we acted very carefully to not cause any damage to those documents."
Four traffic police, two members of the special forces and half a dozen civilians were wounded, deputy interior minister General Abdul Rahman said.
An AFP photographer said Norwegian soldiers were seen firing at the police building. NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed its participation in the operation but insisted it was small.
"We do have a very small number of people assisting the Afghan security forces officials in the scene. It's primarily an advising role and absolutely the Afghan officials are in the lead," an ISAF spokesman told AFP.
NATO says the Taliban insurgency has been weakened and characterised the attack as a ploy to attract media attention, but the time it took to mop up the insurgents will be seen as an embarrassment. "They (the Taliban) are losing the fight," said General Gunter Katz, ISAF military spokesman. "They cannot fight face to face. These attacks are only to attract media. They carry out their attacks in the cities and crowded areas where civilians suffer." He praised the role of the Afghan security forces in countering the attack.
The assault began with a massive car-bomb explosion that shattered the windows of nearby homes. A local resident described the initial explosion as "very very big -- it was massive". It was followed by several other explosions and gunfire.
Taliban insurgents, who are waging an 11-year war against the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, claimed credit for the attack, which it said began at 5:00 am (0030 GMT). "A large number of fedayeen (suicide bombers) entered a building in Dehmazang and are attacking an American training centre, a police centre and other military centres and have caused heavy casualties on the enemy," a Taliban spokesman said.
There is no US or NATO-run training facility in the area and the Taliban are known to exaggerate when claiming attacks. Monday's attack came less than a week after a squad of suicide bombers attacked the Afghan intelligence agency headquarters in Kabul, killing at least one guard and wounding dozens of civilians. All six attackers were killed in the brazen attack on the National Directorate of Security (NDS), also claimed by the Taliban.
Afghan police and other security forces are increasingly targets of Taliban attacks as they take a bigger role in the battle against the insurgents before NATO withdraws the bulk of its 100,000 combat troops by the end of 2014.