Taliban launches attack on Kabul

Five people were killed and 38 others wounded today in fighting between Taliban militants and security forces, officials say.

Five people were killed and 38 others wounded today in fighting between Taliban militants and security forces, the public health ministry said. The death toll did not include four militants who were also killed during the attacks, which lasted more than three hours. "We have five martyred and 38 wounded," Sayed Kabir Amiri, head of hospitals at the ministry of public health, told AFP. "These figures have been reported from all hospitals in the city. The dead include civilians and security personal. The wounded are mostly civilians." Officials in Kabul have said they were clearing buildings that were taken over by Taliban militants, though an interior ministry spokesman said there was still some "resistance". The Taliban launched a wave of gun and bomb attacks on Kabul, saying it has sent in 20 suicide bombers to strike government buildings in the heart of the Afghan capital. A series of explosions and intense gunfire rocked Kabul at the height of this morning's rush hour, but there was 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, which 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 the 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, Mr 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. MrKarzai 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.