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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Afghanistan says it's beaten back wave of attacks

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan insurgents launched a wave of assaults on Kabul and three other provinces Sunday, but Afghan security forces repulsed the attacks and inflicted losses in return, a government spokesman said.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said as many as seven locations were attacked, including Afghanistan's parliament building and the American, German and Russian embassies. In addition, an airbase used by U.S. troops in the eastern city of Jalalabad came under attack by suicide bombers, the NATO command in Kabul reported.
"They came today with more than 20 insurgents and suicide bombers and attacked four provinces," Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Seddiqi told CNN. "As a result, they got nothing, and 19 of them were killed."
Seddiqi said two civilians were killed across the country, and 15 Afghan police officers were wounded.
The Taliban militia that once ruled most of Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the attacks. Kabul's police chief said in a statement that three captured fighters confessed to being members of the Haqqani network, a separate insurgent group that sometimes allies itself with the Taliban.
The U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, issued a statement praising the Afghans for beating back the attacks without allied assistance.
"They were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated," Allen said. "They integrated their efforts, helped protect their fellow citizens and largely kept the insurgents contained."
Allen said the attacks were meant to signal "that legitimate governance and Afghan sovereignty are in peril," but the Afghan response "is proof enough of that folly."
In Kabul, police headed off some attacks, arresting two potential suicide bombers and their handler, and destroying a vehicle full of explosives, Kabul police said. Another 15 would-be attackers were arrested in Kunduz province plotting similar strikes, said Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the chief of police for north and northeast Afghanistan.
In all, Seddiqi said 15 of the 19 suicide bombers were stopped before they could blow themselves up, with most of them killed by Afghan security forces. The fighting was still going on in Kabul, but had ended in the provinces of Nangarhar, Paktia and Logar by Sunday evening, he said.
The Taliban, the Islamist militia that once ruled most of Afghanistan, said the attacks were in retaliation for the killing of 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar province last month. A U.S. Army staff sergeant, Robert Bales, has been charged with those killings.
CNN journalists heard gunfire, explosions and rocket-propelled grenade fire lasting more than an hour in central Kabul on Sunday morning. Small-arms fire continued for at least three hours. But ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings described himself as "underwhelmed" by the attacks.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker expressed similar sentiments, telling CNN: "The Taliban are very good at issuing statements, less good at fighting." He suggested the attacks may be the work of the Haqqani network, rather than the Taliban, saying the Taliban did not have the capacity to carry them out.
Crocker said no Americans had been injured, but that a number of Afghans had been killed or wounded.
"Our hearts go out to them," he told Candy Crowley on CNN's "State of the Union."
The U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall said he could not confirm that the embassy itself was the target of the attacks, but said gunfire had been heard in the vicinity. Meanwhile, Britain's Foreign Office said there was an "ongoing incident in the diplomatic area of Kabul. We are in close contact with Embassy staff, all staff are accounted for."
India also said it had no reports of its nationals being wounded.
A local police official said attackers took over a central Kabul hotel close to the presidential palace, United Nations office and many foreign embassies, but both Seddiqi and staff at the hotel denied it had been attacked.
A western official in Kabul later said the hotel had been taken over by insurgents, but was then taken back by Afghan national security forces.
Meanwhile, in the east of the country, four suicide bombers wearing women's burqas tried to attack the Jalalabad airfield where United States troops are based, airfield commander Jahangir Azimi said.
At least three of the attackers were killed, ISAF said in a statement about the incident.
Separately, a group of suicide bombers attacked the police training center in the city of Gardez in Paktia province. At least eight civilians were wounded, a police official at the center said. The official is not authorized to speak to the media and asked not to be named.
The heavily guarded area of Kabul where the attacks took place is frequented by foreigners and is rarely the scene of violence.
ISAF spokesman Cummings denied the capital's "Green Zone" had been breached, saying the insurgents took over buildings on the outskirts of the area and fired into it.
CNN's Masoud Popalzai and Bharati Naik and Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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