A total of 36 Taliban militants were killed as they mounted a wave of attacks across Afghanistan, Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said Monday.
The attacks against government and foreign military and embassy targets in the capital and three neighbouring provinces ended after 17 hours early Monday when Afghan security forces stormed the last strongholds in Kabul.
Eight members of the Afghan security forces and three civilians also died, Mohammadi said.
Earlier Monday, Afghan security forces said they had regained control of Kabul, killing all the Taliban militants who launched one of the biggest coordinated attacks on Kabul in a decade of war.
“All attackers are dead, the fighting is over,” Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP after final assaults were launched on the militants’ remaining strongholds in the diplomatic enclave and near the parliament.
Sediqqi said he could not say how many militants had been involved as the areas were still being investigated and the body count was not complete.
“The latest information we have about the Afghan Parliament area is that the attack is over now and the only insurgent who was resisting has been killed,” the Kabul police chief’s spokesman Hashmatullah Stanikzai told Reuters.
Kabul was hit by a wave of attacks in three areas Sunday, with embassies and foreign military bases coming under fire in what the Taliban said was the start of its spring offensive.
Afghan security forces took the lead in countering the assault, but a spokesman for NATO forces in the country said they had provided air support in response to requests from the Afghans.
The attacks raise fears over the precarious security situation in Afghanistan as NATO prepares to withdraw its 130,000 troops by the end of 2014 and hand responsibility for security to Afghan forces.
But NATO was quick to hail the performance of the Afghans.
“I am enormously proud of how quickly Afghan security forces responded to today’s attacks in Kabul,” said ISAF commander General John Allen.
“They were on scene immediately, well-led and well-coordinated. They integrated their efforts, helped protect their fellow citizens and largely kept the insurgents contained.”
However, the fact that so many militants had managed to make it through Kabul’s so-called “Ring of Steel” checkpoints and attack high value targets in the heart of the capital has raised questions about lapses in security.
“That they did manage to pull off simultaneous complex attacks shows quite a level of sophistication in preventing detection... so that would be a failure in intelligence,” said Matine van Gijlert of the Afghanistan Analysts’ Network.
“But having said that, in a big bustling city like Kabul it is incredibly difficult to stop this type of attack,” she said.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the ability of Afghan security forces to respond to the attacks was a “clear sign of progress,” while ISAF labeled the attacks “largely ineffective.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later called Crocker to discuss the “cowardly” attacks, the State Department said, and asked him to convey to Karzai her appreciation for the “swift and effective response” of Afghan forces.
The U.S., British, German and Japanese embassy compounds came under fire as militants attacked the city’s diplomatic enclave and tried to storm parliament, sparking a gun battle as lawmakers and bodyguards fired back from the rooftop.
Outside the capital, militants attacked government buildings in Logar province, the airport in Jalalabad, and a police facility in the town of Gardez in Paktya province, where a NATO helicopter was reportedly deployed against them.
“These attacks are the beginning of the spring offensive and we had planned them for months,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.
He said the onslaught was revenge for a series of incidents involving American troops in Afghanistan -- including the burning of Qurans at a NATO base and the massacre of 17 civilians by a U.S. soldier -- and vowed that there would be more such attacks.
The attacks were one of the biggest assaults on the capital in 10 years of war in terms of their spread and coordination, observers say, even if the final death toll was relatively low.
In September last year Taliban attacks targeting locations including the U.S. embassy and headquarters of foreign troops in Kabul killed at least 14 during a 19-hour siege.
And in August, nine people were killed when suicide bombers attacked the British Council cultural center.