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Taliban attack on Kabul police HQ kills 3 officers

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[January 21, 2013]  KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Two Taliban suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the Kabul traffic police headquarters early Monday before another group of militants stormed the compound, battling security forces for nine hours in an attack that left three policemen and all five attackers dead, authorities said.

The coordinated assault was the second brazen raid in the heart of the Afghan capital in less than a week, a sign that the insurgency is determined to keep carrying out such spectacular attacks even as the U.S. and Afghan governments try to coax the Taliban into holding peace talks.

Nine hours after Monday's insurgent attack began with two of the five attackers blowing themselves up, police commandos killed the last two insurgents holed up in the police headquarters, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said. He added that four traffic policemen and 10 civilians were also been wounded in the fighting.

Kabul Police chief Mohammad Ayub Salangi said two Taliban suicide bombers died at the gate when their vests exploded, another blew himself up inside the building and two more were killed by security forces before they managed to detonate their explosive vests.

He said a sedan packed with explosives blew up near the gate a short time later. Such secondary devices are rigged to timers and designed to kill as many first responders as possible.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, which he said was targeting a police training facility "run by foreign military forces."

The traffic police headquarters is not heavily guarded, though it is located on a square leading to the parliament and is also next to the zoo. It is also adjacent to the Afghan border police headquarters and a police training facility -- which may have been the more likely target. The traffic police facility, usually teeming with civilians seeking to get drivers licenses and registrations for vehicles, was nearly empty at the time of the attack.

Sediqi, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said Afghan forces carried out the operation against the militants without any assistance from NATO, adding that "this shows the ability of the Afghan forces, that they are leading the operation."

A unit of NATO special forces that trains and mentors Afghan police was at the scene but not taking part in the fighting.

Gul Rahman, who owns a shop near the traffic police compound, said he heard at least two blasts when the attack began just before dawn. An Associated Press reporter at the scene said a number of big explosions were heard from inside and around the building, along with heavy gunfire.

It was the second insurgent attack inside Kabul in five days.

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Last Wednesday, six Taliban suicide bombers attacked the gates of the Afghan intelligence agency in downtown Kabul, killing one guard and wounding dozens. That operation bore several similarities to Monday's attack, including the use of a secondary car bomb placed outside the government compound.

The attacks came as the Afghan government has been pushing to get the Taliban to the negotiating table and as President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. negotiate for a quicker pullout of American forces. President Barack Obama said after meeting Karzai in Washington earlier this month that the U.S.-led military coalition would hand over the lead for security around the country to Afghan forces this spring -- months ahead of schedule.

Obama also said he agreed with Karzai that the Taliban should open a political office in the Gulf state of Qatar to facilitate peace talks.

Pakistan, the other regional powerbroker, also said last week that it plans to release more Afghan militant detainees in an attempt to boost the peace process ahead of the departure of international troops at the end of 2014. Islamabad made the announcement after talks with Afghan and American officials in Abu Dhabi. Pakistan is thought to hold more than 100 Taliban prisoners and has so far released 26.

In general, Kabul has pressed hard for Pakistan to release Afghan detainees, with some officials saying that they hope the released Taliban can serve as intermediaries. But Washington is concerned about specific prisoners it considers dangerous, saying they could take up arms again.

[Associated Press; By AMIR SHAH and RAHIM FAIEZ]

Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt and Patrick Quinn contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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