Attacks rock Afghan capital, provinces

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban insurgents struck the heart of the Afghan capital and three eastern cities Sunday, firing automatic weapons and grenades at embassies, government buildings and NATO bases as they launched the spring fighting season with the boldest and most complex assault in years.

The multi-pronged attacks show the Taliban and their allies are far from beaten and underscored the security challenge facing government forces as U.S. and NATO forces draw down.

The first blasts rocked the diplomatic quarter of Kabul on Sunday afternoon, and soon gunshots and rocket-propelled grenade fire were ringing out across the city.

One police officer and 17 militants were killed in the attacks, the most widespread in the Afghan capital since an assault on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters last September blamed on the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based insurgent group allied with the Taliban. Fighting continued more than 12 hours after the first blasts, with explosions echoing into the night.

Armed insurgents took over half-built buildings Sunday and used them to fire down on nearby embassies and bases. In the streets of Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, where a NATO base and the U.S. and a number of embassies are located, residents scrambled for cover as gunfire came from all directions.

Across town at the parliament building, insurgents climbed to the upper floors of another empty building and fired on lawmakers below.

Militants also attacked a NATO site on the outskirts of Kabul, where a joint Greek-Turkish base came under heavy fire and forces responded with heavy-caliber machine guns.

The cities of Jalalabad, Gardez and Pul-e-Alam also came under attack as suicide bombers targeted NATO bases.

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