- Attacks rock Kabul and other areas on Sunday and Monday
- Government forces say they repelled the offensives
- The insurgents’ positions in Kabul and Logar have now been cleared
- NATO commander praises Afghans for handling attacks unaided
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — Afghan security forces have cleared the positions in Kabul and in Logar Province from which insurgents had mounted sustained attacks, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry said Monday.
A wave of attacks by militants took place in Kabul and three other areas of the country on Sunday. Government forces said they had repelled the offensives, but some of the violence spilled into Monday.
Explosions rocked central Kabul early Monday and came after periodic bursts of gunfire that lasted well into Sunday night in the district that houses government offices and allied embassies.
Sediq Seddiqi, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said that as of 7 a.m. Monday local time, all the locations in Kabul and Logar from where the insurgents had been firing had been dealt with.
Afghan authorities had said late Sunday that they were trying to dislodge insurgents holed up in an empty building in Kabul near the headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
The attacks in four different provinces were carried out by “more than 20 insurgents and suicide bombers,” Seddiqi had said Sunday. Nineteen of the attackers were killed in the ensuing clashes, he said.
The assaults in Kabul were a rare occurrence in a heavily guarded part of the city — but Gen. John Allen, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said the Afghans beat back the insurgents without allied assistance.
“They were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated,” Allen said. “They integrated their efforts, helped protect their fellow citizens and largely kept the insurgents contained.” He said the attacks were meant to signal “that legitimate governance and Afghan sovereignty are in peril,” but the Afghan response “is proof enough of that folly.”
Seddiqi said two civilians were killed across the country, and 15 Afghan police officers were wounded. He said 15 of 19 suicide bombers were stopped before they could blow themselves up, with most of them killed by Afghan security forces.
And Lutfullah Mashal, a spokesman for the National Directorate of Security, said three men arrested in Kabul confessed to plotting to kill Karim Khalil, Afghanistan’s second vice president. Two of the men planned to blow themselves up in Khalil’s home, Mashal said.
The Taliban militia that once ruled most of Afghanistan claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying it launched fighters into battle with suicide vests, RPGs and hand grenades in Kabul and the provinces of Nangarhar, Paktia and Logar.
But Mashal said the three men who targeted Khalil confessed to being members of the Haqqani network, a separate insurgent group that sometimes allies itself with the Taliban.
In his statement, Allen said, “No one is underestimating the seriousness of today’s attacks.”
But ISAF spokesman Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings described himself as “underwhelmed.” And U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said, “The Taliban are very good at issuing statements, less good at fighting.”
Crocker told CNN’s “State of the Union” that no Americans had been hurt, but “our hearts go out” to the Afghans who had been killed or wounded. He suggested the attacks may be the work of the Haqqani network rather than the Taliban, saying the Taliban did not have the capacity to carry them out.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said as many as seven locations in Kabul were attacked, including Afghanistan’s parliament building and the American, German and Russian embassies.
Seddiqi said the insurgents had taken up positions in empty buildings in three Kabul districts to carry out the attacks. The Kabul police said they found and detonated a van full of explosives.
Meanwhile, an airbase used by U.S. troops in the eastern city of Jalalabad, in Naranghar Province, also came under attack, NATO command in Kabul reported. Four suicide bombers wearing women’s burqas tried to attack the Jalalabad airfield where U.S. troops are based, airfield commander Jahangir Azimi said.
At least three of the attackers were killed, ISAF said in a statement about the incident.
Separately, a group of suicide bombers attacked the police training center in the city of Gardez, in Paktia Province. At least eight civilians were wounded, said a police official at the center, who was not authorized to speak to the news media and asked not to be identified.
And 15 would-be attackers were arrested in Kunduz Province plotting similar strikes, said Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the chief of police for north and northeast Afghanistan.
The Taliban, the Islamist militia that once ruled most of Afghanistan, said the attacks were in retaliation for the killing of 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar province last month. A U.S. Army staff sergeant, Robert Bales, has been charged with those killings.
But Jeff Dressler, an expert on the Haqqani network at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said that the coordination seen in the Kabul attacks indicate a Haqqani-led network was behind them, and that planned but disrupted attacks in the north may also be Haqqani-linked.
“This is likely their unofficial announcement marking the start of the spring fighting season,” Dressler said. Though the attacks didn’t succeed, he said, “The target selection was likely intended to send a message to the U.S., U.K., Russia and the Afghans that this will in fact be a bloody year for all forces in Afghanistan, particularly the east of the country.”
U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall said he could not confirm that the embassy itself was the target of the attacks but said gunfire had been heard in the vicinity. In a statement from London, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the British Embassy was one of the targets, but “every member of Embassy staff is safe.”
“The Afghan National Security Forces responded to the attacks bravely, promptly and effectively, once again illustrating the significant progress that has been made in ensuring that Afghans can look after their own security,” Hague said. The embassy premises sustained “limited damage,” he said, and its staff “dealt with this dangerous situation extremely professionally.”
India also said it had no reports of its citizens being wounded.
CNN’s Masoud Popalzai contributed to this report.