KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban launched a series of coordinated attacks across the Afghan capital and at least three eastern provinces on Sunday, targeting NATO bases, parliament and foreign embassies in a complex assault that shows the insurgents can still penetrate Afghan security and hit Western and government targets in the heart of Kabul.
Suicide bombers and insurgents wielding heavy weapons and rocket-propelled grenades executed the near-simultaneous attacks in what the Taliban called an opening salvo ahead of the spring fighting season, when warmer weather typically brings increased attacks. One police officer and 17 militants died in the attacks.
The assault, the most widespread in the Afghan capital since September, came as the U.S.-led international force is speeding up the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghans in preparation for an end to NATO's combat mission in 2014. The scale and scope of the violence underscored the challenge that Afghan security forces have in protecting even the country's centers of power.
The Taliban claimed that Afghan and foreign troops suffered heavy casualties, but reports from Afghan authorities said only militants were killed.
The Ministry of Interior reported that 17 insurgent fighters died in the attacks in Kabul, Paktia, Nangarhar and Logar provinces. One police officer was killed and 17 police were wounded, the ministry said. Fourteen civilians also were injured in the attacks.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the attacks were a kind of "message" to the Afghan and foreign forces, warning them the insurgents remain strong and resilient.
He said the assaults were the Taliban's response to recent statements by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and NATO spokesman Carsten Jacobson saying the insurgents were weak and that there was no indication they were planning a spring offensive.
"Our mujahedeen fighters are fighting with the Afghan forces in all four provinces," Mujahid told The Associated Press by phone as loud explosions rocked Kabul. "It was well-coordinated and planned for almost two months. It took two months to transfer the weapons and explosives and set up fighters in the specific areas that we planned to attack."