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Attack on Kabul ends after 20 hours of fighting

Teams of insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons struck at the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and other buildings in the heart of Afghanistan's capital.
Image: A military helicopter belonging to coalition forces flies around a building during a gun battle with Taliban militants in Kabul
A military helicopter belonging to coalition forces flies around a building during a gun battle with Taliban militants in Kabul on Wednesday.Musadeq Sadeq / AP
/ Source: NBC, and news services

An assault by Taliban insurgents on the heart of Kabul's diplomatic and military enclave has ended after 20 hours, when security forces killed the last of six attackers, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior said on Wednesday.

"The operation just ended and 6 terrorists were killed by Police, details on casualties will be announced later," spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter.

The insurgents had holed up in a multi-storey building still under construction, and launched their attack early on Tuesday afternoon.

Fighting raged through dawn on Wednesday, raising fresh doubts about the Afghans' ability to secure their nation as U.S. and other foreign troops begin to withdraw.

Seven Afghans were killed and 15 wounded in the coordinated daylight attack, which sent foreigners dashing for cover and terrified the city from midday well into the night as U.S. helicopters buzzed overhead. No embassy or NATO staff members were hurt.

At daybreak Wednesday, shooting could still be heard and at least one U.S. Army helicopter was firing at the top floors of a building from which militants had attacked the heavily fortified embassy. Shooting and explosions were heard overnight from the building.

The Afghan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and confirmed that the U.S. Embassy, NATO headquarters and other foreign military installations were targets.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed in an emailed statement that the Islamist insurgents were in telephone contact with the gunmen and called on residents near the building to stay at home. He said the attackers would keep firing at the embassy and security personnel.

"We were working for months to carry out such attacks and hit U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters in the heart of Kabul," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told NBC News. "With the help of our sincere mujahideen with Afghan army, police and government, our fighters managed to enter this high-security zone and carry out such attacks."

Image: Afghan youth cheer after a building was cleared of militants in Kabul
Afghan youth cheer after a building was cleared of militants in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday Sept. 14, 2011. The 20-hour insurgent attack in the heart of Kabul ended Wednesday morning after a final volley of helicopter gunfire as Afghan police ferreted out and killed the last few assailants who had taken over a half-built downtown building to fire on the nearby U.S. Embassy and NATO compounds. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)Musadeq Sadeq / AP

Third attack since June
The surge of violence was a stark reminder of the instability that continues to plague Afghanistan nearly a decade after the U.S. invasion that ousted the Taliban in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.

It was the third major attack in Kabul since late June, casting fresh doubts on the ability of Afghans to secure their own country as the U.S. and other foreign troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014.

At 1:45 p.m. local time Tuesday (4:15 a.m. ET), at least six loud explosions were heard in the center of the city. Blasts and more gunfire were later heard elsewhere in Kabul, NBC News reported.

NBC reported that the initial gunfire and explosions were heard in an area about 600 yards from the U.S. diplomatic compound.

Police and other security officials blocked roads around the U.S. Embassy and other diplomatic missions.

Near the heavily fortified diplomatic district, insurgents took over a building under construction and fired rockets in the direction of several embassy and NATO compounds. Two NATO helicopters circled the building, which is in central Abdul Haq Square.

In western Kabul, just a few kilometers away, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance to a police building, killing a policeman.

A second suicide bomber wounded two people when he detonated his explosives near the Habibia high school, also in the west of Kabul, the interior ministry said in a statement.

Western security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, speculated that the insurgents may have had help smuggling so many weapons into Kabul and the area near the embassy. There have been numerous instances of insurgents infiltrating the Afghan army and police to carry out attacks.

'Enemies of Afghanistan' Mujahid said the attackers were armed with rocket-propelled grenades, suicide bomb vests and AK-47s, and were targeting government buildings, the U.S. Embassy and the headquarters of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

At least two rockets landed in the upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan district, home to the U.S., British and many other embassies.

Television pictures from near the attacks showed a burned-out minivan, a bicycle in the middle of the street and people running away.

Associated Press reporters saw police carrying the body of a civilian man, dressed in a white tunic and pants. He was hit by a rocket that landed in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, police said. A cameraman from Iran's Press TV was wounded by an explosion near their offices in the same neighborhood.

The Obama administration declared that it wouldn't allow Tuesday's attack to deter the American mission in Afghanistan, warning the attackers that they would be relentlessly pursued.

Even so, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul canceled all trips in and out of Afghanistan for its diplomats, and suspended all travel within Afghanistan.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the "enemies of Afghanistan" were trying to disrupt the handing over of security responsibility to the Afghan army and police.

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'Operation Martyrdom'
The Taliban's website published a statement saying "Operation Martyrdom" was under way, CBS News reported.

The attack in Kabul follows a truck bomb which exploded near a NATO base in Afghanistan on Saturday. Four Afghan civilians were killed and 77 U.S. troops wounded.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001, with high levels of foreign troop deaths and record civilian casualties.