Afghanistan Interior Ministry attack in Kabul as ISIS and Taliban continue assault

Marines launch the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System from a Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System during Operation Steel Knight aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms Calif. Dec. 7 2017. (Pfc. William Chockey  Marine Corps

Marines launch the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System from a Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System during Operation Steel Knight aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms Calif. Dec. 7 2017. (Pfc. William Chockey Marine Corps

Just after midday, a auto bomb exploded at the entrance to the ministry compound, said Hashmat Stanekzai, spokesman for Kabul police. Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesman for the ministry, confirmed the attack.

The Taliban have not officially responded, but deadly attacks have proliferated since then, particularly in Kabul, which has become the most risky place in the country for civilians.

Two blasts went off outside the ministry compound before assailants attempted to storm the building, triggering fierce clashes with security forces that lasted for hours.

According to police, the attackers used two armored SUV vehicles - one Land Cruiser and a Ford - to get through check points. "There were eight attackers involved, one detonated his explosives, seven others were killed", interior ministry spokesman Najib Danish told reporters.

Five people were injured in the attack, which took place during the holy month of Ramadan and was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

The attack on a meeting of commanders in the district of Musa Qala in Helmand, one of the heartlands of the Taliban insurgency, was a significant blow to the insurgents, said Lt. Col. Martin O'Donnell, spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan.

Last week, a US government watchdog group said the administration's revamped strategy has made little progress against the Taliban insurgency, leaving the country a "dangerous and volatile" place almost 17 years after the USA invaded.

Both IS and the Taliban have stepped up their attacks on Kabul.

The Taliban and a local IS affiliate have carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting security forces and the country's Shiite minority, that have killed hundreds of people in recent years.

Kabul accounted for 16 per cent of all civilian casualties previous year, when 1,831 civilians were killed or wounded nationwide, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

The UN has warned that 2018 could be even deadlier.

Last week the Taliban called on Kabul residents to "keep away" from military and intelligence centres in the city, saying the group had more assaults planned as part of its annual spring offensive.

"This was a civilian residential area, which had no connection with the Taliban", spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi said in a statement.

"We can confirm an explosion and gunfire at the first checkpoint of the interior ministry building".

But Nicholson, who has sought to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table by bringing to bear increased U.S. military pressure, maintained that violence and progress can coexist.

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