Taliban attack on Afghan palace leaves 11 dead

Taliban militants stormed Afghanistan’s presidential compound in Kabul yesterday after slipping past two checkpoints, triggering a gunbattle that left eight attackers and three guards dead, and sent journalists attending an official event scrambling for cover, officials and witnesses said.

Keeping an eye out: Afghan soldiers stand guard as smoke rises from the gate of the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. Pic/AFP

The well-planned daylight assault in a highly fortified zone of the capital was a bold challenge to Kabul’s authority just a week after the Taliban opened a political office in Qatar as the Islamic militant movement agreed to begin a US-led peace process.

The gunbattle started early Tuesday morning near the east gate leading to the palace next to the Afghan Ministry of Defence and the former Ariana Hotel, which former US intelligence officials have confirmed is used by the CIA.

While one carload of Taliban fighters dressed in camouflage emerged from their black Land Cruiser and started shooting, another got stuck between the two checkpoints and detonated their explosives-laden vehicle.

The Taliban said all eight of its fighters died in the attack, while the Interior Ministry said three security guards were killed and another wounded.

The attack was a bitter reminder of the ability of the Taliban to penetrate the heart of the capital, showing their strength in the fight against President Hamid Karzai’s Western-backed government.

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