Last Updated 1:16 p.m. ET
(AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban launched a series of coordinated attacks across the Afghan capital and at least three eastern provinces on Sunday, targeting NATO bases, parliament and foreign embassies in a complex assault that shows the insurgents can still penetrate Afghan security and hit Western and government targets in the heart of Kabul.
Suicide bombers and insurgents wielding heavy weapons and rocket-propelled grenades executed the near-simultaneous attacks in what the Taliban called an opening salvo ahead of the spring fighting season, when warmer weather typically brings increased attacks.
The attacks, the most widespread in the Afghan capital since September, came as the U.S.-led international force is speeding up the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghans in preparation for an end to NATO's combat mission in 2014. The scale and scope of the violence underscored the challenge that Afghan security forces have in protecting even the country's centers of power.
The Taliban claimed that Afghan and foreign troops suffered heavy casualties, but reports from Afghan authorities showed the assaults were noisy, but not deadly.
The Ministry of Interior reported that 17 militants were killed in the attacks in Kabul, Paktia, Nangarhar and Logar provinces. Seventeen police 11 in Kabul and three each in Logar and Paktia provinces were wounded, the ministry said. Fourteen civilians also were injured in the attacks.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the attacks were a kind of "message" to the Afghan and foreign forces, warning them the insurgents remain strong and resilient.
He said the assaults were the Taliban's response to recent statements by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and NATO spokesman Carsten Jacobson, who claimed the insurgents were weak and that there was no indication they were planning a spring offensive.
"Our mujahedeen fighters are fighting with the Afghan forces in all four provinces," Mujahid told The Associated Press by phone as loud explosions rocked Kabul. "It was well-coordinated and planned for almost two months. It took two months to transfer the weapons and explosives and set up fighters in the specific areas that we planned to attack."
The attack in Kabul began Sunday afternoon with more than a dozen explosions in the central neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, where a NATO base and a number of embassies, including the U.S. Embassy, are located.
Gunfire erupted soon after the blasts, forcing people caught in the street to scramble for cover.
Militants fired in several directions from a building under construction near an intersection of roads that lead to the presidential palace, various ministry buildings and several Western embassies.
"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 and killed him. They also fired and killed an Afghan policeman and then they jumped into the building. All the shops closed. I ran away."
Heavy gunfire crackled through the streets for hours as smoke rose over the skyline and sirens wailed. A loudspeaker at the U.S. Embassy could be heard barking: "Duck and cover. Move away from the windows."