Militants, Afghan police battle in Afghan capital

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KABUL (AP) — Taliban militants launched a series of attacks Monday in the heart of Afghan capital, prompting fierce gunbattles after a suicide bomber blew himself up near the presidential palace. Smoke rose over the city and more explosions rocked the city as Afghan troops fought off the attackers.

It was the latest attack showing the insurgents’ ability to penetrate the heavily secured city — even near the presidential palace and government ministries. Militants have become increasingly brazen in challenging Afghan and international forces as the U.S. and NATO allies begin sending 37,000 more troops to join the fight.

The attackers also targeted the Defense Ministry, the Justice Mministry and the luxury Serena Hotel, which is frequented by Westerners.

Police sealed off a large area in the center of the city as the clash of machine-gun fire echoed through the mountain-rimmed city.

A statement on a Taliban Web site said insurgents had entered the city specifically to target the presidential palace, the Central Bank, the Ministry of Mines and Industry and the Serena.

Mohib Safi, deputy governor of the central bank, said bank employees heard a strong explosion followed by gunfire. He said employees were safely inside and no militants had entered the building.

A reporter with The Associated Press said Afghan security forces surrounded the area, and that fighting between the two sides was continuing. Ambulances transported the wounded from the scene.

NATO said the explosion was reported near the Central Bank and that international forces were working with Afghan troops to secure the area.