Explosions have rocked the Kabul's diplomatic quarter with ensuing gunfights between Taliban fighters and security forces. Two Spaniards and at least four Afghans were killed as security forces battled the insurgents.
Multiple blasts struck Kabul's affluent Shir Pur districtFriday evening. The explosions were followed by gunbattles between suspected Taliban militants and security forces.
Two Spanish security officers were killed in the attack, in a heavily protected part of Kabul close to several embassies and government buildings. At least four Afghan police were killed or wounded, Kabul police chief Abdul Rahman Rahimi said.
The deadly attack came just hours after President Ashraf Ghani voiced optimism that peace talks with the Taliban would resume within weeks.
"The operation took time because we wanted to rescue the people trapped in surrounding buildings and we had to move cautiously and in a proper tactical manner," Rahimi told the Reuters news agency.
Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Friday the Taliban had not targeted his country's diplomats. "There was no intention to attack the Spanish embassy in Afghanistan... it was an attack against some guesthouses very near the embassy," he told reporters in the southeastern city of Alicante.
Taliban takes credit
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the initial massive explosion that shook buildings in the area Friday, with spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid saying it was carried out by a suicide bomber.
Two attackers were killed but three or four others were hiding in the guesthouse, deputy Kabul police chief Gul Agha Rouani said. He said three Spaniards were rescued and there were no other foreigners remaining in the building. And at least seven Afghans were transported to a hospital due with injuries.
The assault in Kabul comes as the Taliban launched a brutal offensive across Afghanistan, making gains in the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
Earlier this week, the militant group - which was ousted from power in 2001 by a US-led invasion - conducted a 27-hour siege on the airport of Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city.
The Kandahar airport is known as the country's largest military installation in southern Afghanistan.
Some 50 civilians, police officers and security personnel were killed in the attack, prompting fears of the militant group's ability to launch significant attacks on government and foreign targets in the country.
Crisis on the horizon?
This week witnessed President Ashraf Ghani in Pakistan for the Heart of Asia conference, which sought to bolster peace talks between Afghanistan and the Taliban.
Peace talks broke down following the group's announcement of leader Mullah Omar's death in July. The militant leader's death also caused a rift within the Taliban, prompted by controversy over Omar's successor.
Ghani's visit to Pakistan was also highlighted by the resignation of Afghanistan's spy chief Rahmatullah Nabil, who cited a "lack of agreement on some policy matters" with the president.
"I am very concerned with the security situation when the Taliban are able to overrun or threaten our provinces and when we have no head of defense or intelligence," said Afghan MP Farhad Sediqi, following Nabil's resignation, reported Reuters news agency.
Preaching a more extreme version of Islamist militancy, the "Islamic State" has also gained traction in Afghanistan, with some defecting members of the Taliban joining its ranks.
ls, jar/bw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)