The assault, one of the most serious on the capital since US-backed Afghan forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001, highlighted the ability of militants to strike at the heavily guarded diplomatic zone even after more than 10 years of war.
“These attacks are the beginning of the spring offensive and we had planned them for months,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.
Heavy fighting erupted again more than five hours after the Taliban first struck, as dusk was falling over the capital and as mosques were issuing calls to prayer.
The Taliban said the main targets were the German and British embassies and the headquarters of Afghanistan’s NATO-led force. Several Afghan members of parliament joined security forces repelling attackers from a roof near the parliament.
The coordinated attack is bound to intensify worry in the run-up to the planned withdrawal of foreign troops by the end of 2014.
Large explosions rattled the diplomatic sector of Kabul. Billows of black smoke rose from embassies while rocket-propelled grenades whizzed overhead. Heavy gunfire could be heard from many directions as Afghan forces tried to repel Taliban fighters.
The Taliban said their fighters were positioned on the rooftop of a tall building in the heart of the capital.
Taliban fighters also launched assaults in at least two provinces, a spokesman for the insurgents said.
The Interior Ministry said that initial intelligence on the wave of attacks across the country pointed to involvement of the Haqqani network, which is allied with the Taliban and one of the most deadly groups fighting US-led forces in Afghanistan.
If the Haqqanis were involved, that is likely to hurt already strained ties between strategic allies the United States and Pakistan.
The United States has repeatedly urged the Pakistani military to go after the Haqqani network, which is believed to be based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region on the Afghan border.
“It’s too early to say, but the initial findings show the Haqqanis were involved,” Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told Reuters.
The Taliban said in a statement that “tens of fighters“, armed with heavy and light weapons, and some wearing suicide-bomb vests, were involved.