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Taliban attacks U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan -- 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 the Afghan capital Tuesday, 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.
Late Tuesday, at least two gunmen remained holed up on the top floors of an apartment building from which they and other militants had attacked the heavily fortified embassy.
The militants' seeming ability to strike at will in the most heavily defended part of Kabul suggested that they may have had help from rogue elements in the Afghan security forces. The attacks also coincided with suicide bombings elsewhere in the capital -- the first time insurgents have organized such a complex assault against multiple targets in separate parts of the city.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, though Kabul's deputy police chief said he thought an affiliated organization, the Haqqani network, carried it out.
The Taliban and related groups have staged more than a dozen assaults in Kabul this year, including three major attacks since June. That represents an increase from years past and is clearly intended to offset U.S. claims of weakening the insurgents on southern battlefields and through hundreds of night raids by special forces targeting their commanders.
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.
High blast walls ring the embassy compound, and there was little damage to the reinforced concrete buildings, many of which are surrounded by sandbags.
The U.S. and other foreign troops intend to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014. President Barack Obama has ordered the withdrawal of 33,000 troops by the end of next summer, and some of America's international partners are making plans to remove some of their forces. There are now about 131,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, with 90,000 from the United States.
The expansion of the Afghan army and police is critical to NATO's exit strategy. Earlier this summer, the alliance handed over responsibility for security in seven areas, including two provinces. But violence has increased in some of those places.
The U.S. hopes to have 325,000 Afghan army and police in the field by the end of 2014. But the Afghan forces have been plagued by desertions. And on Tuesday, the Pentagon announced it will try to cut the multibillion dollar cost of training the forces.