A series of explosions rocked Afghanistan's presidential palace early Tuesday as Taliban suicide attackers used Land Cruisers, vehicle passes and fake badges to get inside one of the most secure areas in the capital, Kabul.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which reportedly involved at least three suicide bombers.
It was launched just as reporters gathered for a news conference called by President Hamid Karzai to talk about ongoing efforts to open peace talks with the militant group.
A Taliban statement said the targets were the Ariana Hotel, which they say is the CIA base in the Afghan capital, and the presidential palace in the central Shash Darak district.
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The palace is in a large fortified area of downtown Kabul that also houses the US Embassy and headquarters of the NATO-led coalition forces. Access to the so-called "green zone" is heavily restricted, but the Land Cruisers used in the attack are similar to those used by international soldiers in Afghanistan.
The attack began soon after 6:30 AM local time with one of the militants opening fire with an automatic weapon at a gate to the palace.
Afghan forces and US servicemen returned fire, eventually killing five assailants after a 90-minute gunfight.
Schoolchildren walking to classes nearby were also caught in the exchanges. It was not immediately clear if any were hurt. Journalists awaiting Karzai's press conference had to run for cover to avoid the bullets, according to one BBC reporter. A thick plume of smoke was also seen rising from Ariana Hotel.
The attack comes amid hopes that the Taliban were ready for peace talks. Days ago they opened an office in Doha, Qatar.