Afghan security forces hailed after Kabul attack
The Afghan government on Saturday lauded its security forces for beating back a Taliban assault on central Kabul that left one policeman, two civilians and all four militants dead.
Explosions rocked the city for several hours on Friday after insurgents launched a coordinated suicide and gun attack centred on a compound of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The effectiveness of Afghan security forces is crucial to the government's ability to defeat the Taliban insurgency as NATO-led troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
The police, army and special forces are being trained up by the international coalition, but there are widespread fears that they will not be able to impose security after 12 years of war.
President Hamid Karzai issued a statement praising the "bravery, devotion and quick action of Afghan security forces who gunned down the terrorists and prevented more casualties."
Interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told a news conference in Kabul that the operation had been "a great success".
"The attackers were brainwashed to kill our people... but our forces contained and killed them. There were four attackers with heavy and light weapons."
Sediqqi said one insurgent detonated himself at the entrance of the IOM compound at the start of fighting, which left several buildings destroyed or damaged by rocket-propelled grenades, gunfire and explosions.
"The gunmen moved to four other buildings. The fight continued till 11:00 pm, and the three remaining attackers were killed," he said.
The IOM, a UN-affiliated body that works to improve management of cross-border migration, said that doubts remained whether it was the specific target of the attack.
"It could have been an NDS (National Directorate of Security spy agency) building next door," IOM spokesman Richard Danziger told AFP.
The Taliban claimed the attack was against a guesthouse allegedly used by Afghan and US intelligence staff.
Danziger added that one Italian female staff member badly wounded by a grenade blast was evacuated to Europe overnight.
A total of 17 people were wounded, including seven Nepalese guards and one eight-year-old Afghan boy.
Also on Friday evening, a large explosion inside a mosque in Ghazni province killed eight Taliban and three civilians.
The provincial government said the bomb, hidden in fuel jugs, exploded accidentally when insurgents were praying with villagers.
The continuing threat to Kabul was underlined on Saturday when a suicide bomber killed himself in the south of the city as he was preparing explosives, police said.
Despite the dangers, young volunteers handed out 10,000 neon-pink "peace" balloons to Kabul residents in an art project organised by Yazmany Arboleda, a conceptual artist from New York.
"I tell people that this balloon is to bring a smile to your face," said Nargis Azaryoon, one of the volunteers.