KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) ? At least seven heavily armed Taliban insurgents launched a pre-dawn attack near Afghanistan's main airport Monday, apparently targeting NATO's airport headquarters with rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and at least one large bomb. Two Afghan civilians were wounded and all the attackers were killed after an hours-long battle.
It was the third time in a month that insurgents have launched a major attack in the Afghan capital, seeking high-profile targets to rattle public confidence as Afghan security forces take over most responsibility for protecting the country ahead of most foreign troops' withdrawal next year.
The airport itself was not damaged and reopened shortly after the fighting was over, said Kabul airport chief Yaqub Rassuli.
"There was no damage to the runway. Some shrapnel fell nearby, but we have cleared it away," Rassuli said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said two Afghan civilians were wounded, but there were no deaths among either security forces or civilians.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the insurgents were targeting NATO headquarters next to the civilian airport. The international military coalition said it was assessing the situation and had no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
The attack began with an loud blast just as Kabul's residents had finished morning prayers at around 4:30 a.m.
Police said that attackers wearing suicide vests occupied one or two buildings under construction on the west side of the airport and were firing at the military facility, which was quite a distance away. It was unclear whether they hit anything inside the NATO facility.
"It first started with a big explosion which we think was a suicide attack. After that a gunbattle started," said Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai during the fighting. He added that at least five insurgents then occupied two buildings, located in a single compound, and started firing rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.
"Sometimes they are shooting from one building, sometimes from other. It is a residential area and the compound has been surrounded by Afghan security forces. The security forces surrounded the buildings and are being careful because it is a residential area," he added.
Deputy Kabul police chief Dawood Amin says there were seven attackers in total. Two blew themselves up with suicide vests at the start of the assault and five were shot and killed by police during the battle.
The Taliban have launched intense attacks across the country, testing Afghan security forces as foreign combat troops pull back more than a decade after the U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban regime for sheltering al-Qaida's leadership after the Islamic extremist group launched the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
The last big attack in Kabul was May 24, when six suicide bombers attacked a guest house belonging to the United Nations-affiliated International Organization for Migration, killing three people ? including a police officer, a guard and a civilian. On May 16, a suicide bomber had rammed a car into a NATO convoy killing 15 people, including two American soldiers and four civilian contractors.
The U.S.-led NATO coalition's Joint Command headquarters at the airport runs the day-to-day operations of the nearly 12-year-old war against insurgents. The airport's military side is also used for NATO transport and other aircraft.
"It started just after dawn prayers and I counted about a dozen explosions, mostly RPG fire, coming from the airport," said Emayatullah, who lives next to the airport. Like many Afghans he uses only one name.
Associated Press writer Amir Shah contributed from Kabul.