Taliban attack near the center of Afghan capital

A NATO soldier runs to the scene of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, April 15, 2012. AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid

Updated 12:10 a.m. ET

(CBS/AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - A brazen, 18-hour Taliban attack on the Afghan capital ended early Monday when insurgents who had holed up overnight in two buildings were overcome by heavy gunfire from Afghan-led forces and pre-dawn air assaults from U.S.-led coalition helicopters.

Kabul residents awoke Monday to a second day of loud explosions and the crackle of gunfire. As darkness turned to dawn, Afghan-led forces fired one rocket-propelled grenade after another into a building in the center of the city where insurgents began their attack Sunday.

Fighting there and at the Afghan parliament building on the southwest side of the city ended just before 8 a.m.

Authorities said one police officer and at least 17 militants were killed in the multi-pronged attacks in Kabul and three eastern cities. The violence showed the Taliban and their allies are far from beaten and underscored the security challenge facing government forces as U.S. and NATO forces draw down. The majority of international combat troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.

The Taliban began their near-simultaneous assaults on embassies, government buildings and NATO bases at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, saying it was their response to NATO officials' recent claims that the insurgency was weak.

The U.S., German and British embassies and some coalition and Afghan government buildings took direct and indirect fire, according to Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition.

Local residents near the parliament building said rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire rocked their neighborhood through the night and into the morning.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqi said militants took up position in a building under construction near parliament. Some lawmakers grabbed weapons and started fighting when militants fired on the parliament building on Sunday.

Reporters for The Associated Press witnessed the Monday morning assault on another building under construction near the presidential palace, western embassies and Afghan ministries.

CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey reports the co-coordinated attacks on Sunday included both gunmen and suicide bombers.

Separate assaults in the capital targeted NATO bases, the Afghan parliament and several embassies, including the U.S. compound.

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Afghan forces used assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to try to dislodge the handful of Taliban fighters who took positions in high buildings, and fought for more than seven hours.

The attackers managed to penetrate what is supposedly a "ring of steel" around the Afghan capital, put in place two years ago and also breached last September when Taliban fighters managed to hit the U.S. embassy.

The first explosions on Sunday rocked the diplomatic quarter of Kabul. Soon gunshots and rocket-propelled grenade fire were ringing out across the city. Smoke rose over the skyline as sirens wailed. A loudspeaker at the U.S. Embassy could be heard barking: "Duck and cover. Move away from the windows."

It was the most widespread attack in the Afghan capital since an assault on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters last September blamed on the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based insurgent group allied with the Taliban. Explosions and the crackle of gunfire could be heard throughout the night.

The sophistication and firepower of the latest strikes, as well as the high-profile government and foreign targets, bore the hallmarks of the attack last fall and others carried out by Haqqani insurgents.

As in the earlier attack, armed insurgents took over half-built buildings Sunday and used them to fire down on nearby embassies and bases. In the streets of Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, where a NATO base and a number of embassies, including the U.S. Embassy, are located, residents scrambled for cover as gunfire rained down from all directions.

"I saw two Land Cruisers pull up and two militants jumped from the car," said Mohammad Zakar, a 27-year-old mechanic who has a shop near the building commandeered by the militants. "They opened fire on an intelligence service guard ... They also fired and killed an Afghan policeman and then they jumped into the building. All the shops closed. I ran away."

Below, watch the CBS Evening News report on Sunday's attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan.


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