Taliban attack Afghan presidential palace in Kabul

Taliban gunmen

Afghan forces have shut down an attack by Taliban gunmen on Afghanistan’s presidential palace and nearby buildings, with explosions and gunfire shaking Kabul’s centre.

The city’s police chief says all the attackers were killed in the early morning gunfight that ended after about 90 minutes.

The militants struck at an entrance of the palace where president Hamid Karzai was due to hold a press conference.

The defence ministry and the Ariana Hotel, where the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has its Afghan station, were also targeted.

The attack comes only days after Mr Karzai raised objections about US peace talks with the Taliban. He says his government will not take part unless the process is “Afghan-led”.

Heavy explosions and gunfire at the palace intensified soon after 6:30am (local time), when at least one man opened fire with an automatic rifle at a palace gate in the central Shash Darak district.

Mr Karzai’s whereabouts were not immediately known.

Attack on palace, defence ministry and CIA

Reporters had been gathering at the palace when the attack began and dived for cover as government forces returned fire. Heavy explosions were heard and the gunfire intensified.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message from spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid to Kabul reporters.

“Today a number of suicide bombers attacked the presidential palace, defence ministry and the Ariana Hotel,” Mujahid said.

Kabul police chief, General Ayoub Salangi, said all the attackers had been killed. An Afghan official said five assailants had been killed along with two Afghan guards.

The Ariana Hotel is known to house the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Afghanistan. A thick plume of smoke was seen rising from the building.

The assault was launched a day after the US envoy appointed to help the Afghan government and the Taliban pursue peace, James Dobbins, arrived in Kabul. He had been due to hold a press roundtable with Afghan reporters.

He told journalists on Monday that Washington was still trying to determine if the Taliban were ready for talks.

The talks to end 12 years of war between the Taliban insurgency and international and Afghan forces ran into difficulties over the opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf emirate of Qatar.