KABUL, Afghanistan — In a brazen attack on the seat of Afghan government power, gunman struck near the palace in Kabul early Tuesday, reportedly exchanging fire with bodyguards of President Hamid Karzai.
More than a dozen heavy explosions rocked the Shash Darak neighborhood of the capital, near the presidential palace, embassies and the headquarters of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, about 6:30 a.m.
Underlining the security challenges faced by the administration, the attack took place as journalists were attending a news conference hosted by Karzai at the palace. In text messages to reporters, the Taliban claimed responsibility, saying several attackers targeted the presidential palace, the Ministry of Defense and a nearby hotel.
Karzai administration officials were not available to comment on the gun battle and explosions. The attack comes a few days after the government objected to a Taliban office in Qatar, claiming that its flag and nameplate suggested the militant group represented the country.
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The Taliban has openly said it will maintain its strikes against the government and international forces even as it entertains talks aimed at a political settlement in advance of the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
Four Americans were killed in a Taliban rocket attack on Bagram air base in eastern Afghanistan last week, just as President Barack Obama was announcing negotiations with the insurgent group in an “important first step” toward reconciliation.