Afghan police on Wednesday repelled a brazen attack on the country’s interior ministry, one of the capital’s most heavily defended compounds, that ended with the eight assailants and a police officer being killed.
Rather than the Taliban, security officials blamed the attack on the Haqqani Network - a militant group with links to Al Qaeda and elements of Pakistan’s security establishment. The Taliban, which controls 14 per cent of Afghanistan, has carried out a series of deadly assaults on Kabul in recent months as the country prepares for elections in October.
Further underlining the numerous security threats facing Afghanistan, ISIS claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack via its Amaq news agency.
Just the day before the attack, intelligence-led security forces in a raid to intercept a vehicle found to be carrying explosives along with an unspecified number of gunmen on the airport road which is very close to interior ministry targeted Wednesday.
Afghan security forces struggled to maintain security in the capital this year. Staving off the attackers with the death of just one policeman could be considered a rare success.
Rather than bearded gunmen in turbans, photos posted on social media showed that the clean-shaven attackers wore military uniforms and Western-style haircuts, likely a tactic to help them avoid detection.
The gunmen drove at least one armoured SUV of the kind favoured by high-level officials and foreign troops, which may have enabled them to get through Kabul’s numerous checkpoints to reach the gates of the ministry.
A car bomb exploded near the ministry entrance immediately before gunmen exchanged fire with members of the security forces, a senior police official said.
"The attackers used two vehicles to reach near interior ministry compound. There were eight attackers involved, one detonated his explosives, seven others were killed," interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told reporters.
Mr Danish said five civilians were wounded in the assault.
Attacks in Kabul this year have killed and wounded hundreds. In one attack in January, a bomb hidden in an ambulance killed over 100 people.
With the Taliban warning of further attacks on government and foreign targets in the coming weeks, the capital is on high alert with increased checkpoints and security patrols.
The Taliban has warned civilians to avoid military and intelligence compounds as they may be targeted during their annual spring offensive.
"To avoid civilian casualties and only cause damage to enemy military, we are asking Kabul residents to keep away," said a statement last week.
Avoiding such targets will be difficult in a congested city that hosts the country’s government and intelligence bodies. The interior ministry compound was moved in 2015 to its current larger facility for safety as it is further from the city centre and also for additional space.
Police also said they found a car filled with weapons and explosives at Kabul's international airport near the interior ministry on Wednesday. Though the fighting was over, a security source said that a clearing operation was ongoing.