A massive explosion shook Kabul on Monday as fighting between Taliban militants and security forces raged in the centre of the Afghan capital, witnesses said.
Canadian soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) stand guard during a patrol in Panjwayi district, some 30 Kms to the west of Kandahar province, in 2008. (AFP Photo)
The Taliban have launched a wave of gun and bomb attacks on the Afghan capital, saying it had sent in 20 suicide bombers to strike government buildings in the heart of the city.
The attacks have hit at the height of the morning rush hour, but there has been no immediate information about possible casualties.
"It is our work, the targets are the (presidential) palace, the finance, justice and mines ministries, and the central bank," a purported Taliban spokesman told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
"Twenty of our suicide bombers have entered the area and fighting is ongoing," the spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, adding that one militant had detonated a suicide vest at the entrance to the presidential palace complex.
Insurgents also stormed a five-storey shopping mall and were exchanging gunfire with security forces surrounding the building, witnesses said.
Army and police snipers took positions on buildings around Pashtunistan Square in the centre of the capital after attacks, whnich appeared to be well-coordinated and involve a large number of gunmen.
"I heard the blast then we started running, but we happened to be running towards the explosions," said witness Bahram Sarwary.
"I saw smoke coming from a building near the central bank and the presidential palace and I saw at least one person injured," he said.
The central business district of the Afghan capital is the nexus of political, business and diplomatic life.
Attacks on the capital are infrequent, thanks say military and government officials to better intelligence, which is supplemented with a surveillance balloon that hovers over the city.
The attacks came a day after the government said President Hamid Karzai was to announce a new plan aimed at forging peace with the Islamist Taliban and other militants fighting to topple his administration.
The plan would be announced ahead of a key international conference on Afghanistan's security and development due to be held in London on January 28, Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omar said.
"The scheme we are proposing this time is taking all those into consideration and learning from the past and trying to come up with a proper programme where we have all the necessary ground to allow those joining the programme to have a peaceful life," he said.
Karzai has long called for peace talks with the Taliban -- even offering government posts to its leaders -- but the militia has refused dialogue until the withdrawal of international troops on which Kabul relies for security.
Rockets were also fired into the heavily fortified diplomatic area of Wazir Akbar Khan on Saturday night, coinciding with visits by the US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
The last major attack on the capital was on December 15, when a suicide car bomber blew up his vehicle outside the homes of former senior government officials, killing eight people and injuring more than 40.
On October 28, a guesthouse occupied by United Nations employees was overrun by Taliban militants, who murdered six UN workers. The incident prompted the organisation to evacuate most of its Kabul-based staff.