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Kabul fighting ends after 18 hours of intense gunfire

The attacks on Western embassies in Kabul, the Afghan capital, raise questions about the competence of Afghan security forces. NBC's Sohel Uddin reports.

Updated at 11:36 p.m. ET: Heavy street fighting between militants and security forces in the center of the Afghan capital Kabul ended on Monday after 18 hours of intense gunfire, rocket attacks and explosions, police and government officials said.

Battles which broke out at mid-day on Sunday gripped the capital's central districts through the night, with explosions and gunfire lighting up alleys and surrounding streets.

"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," said the Kabul police chief's spokesman Hashmatullah Stanikzai.

The fighting at the parliament in the west of the city was the only pocket where militants were still resisting security forces. Earlier, at daybreak, security forces flushed out militants holed up near embassies in the heavily guarded diplomatic area.

NATO helicopters had launched strafing attack runs on gunmen hiding in a construction site overlooking the NATO headquarters and several embassies, including the British and German missions.

Elite soldiers scaled scaffolding to outflank the insurgents, who appeared to have dug them themselves in on the second floor from the top of the construction site. Bullets ricocheted off walls, sending up clouds of brick dust.

"I could not sleep because of all this gunfire now. It's been the whole night," said local resident Hamdullah.

The assault by the insurgents, which began with attacks on embassies, a supermarket, a hotel and the parliament, is one of the most serious on the capital since U.S.-backed Afghan forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001.

The Taliban said in a statement that heavy gunbattles were continuing in Logar province.

A Taliban spokesman vowed there would be more attacks after gunmen launched multiple attacks on heavily guarded Western embassies in the Afghan capital on Sunday.

The attacks are retaliation for the burning of Qurans at a NATO base in February, the murders of 17 Afghans allegedly by an Army staff sergeant and videos that apparently show U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban.

Taliban insurgents claimed responsibility for Sunday’s assaults, one of the most serious on the capital since U.S.-backed Afghan forces removed the group from power in 2001.

"These attacks are the beginning of the Spring Offensive and we had planned them for months," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.

Initial intelligence pointed to the militant Haqqani network, a Taliban ally that is fighting against the U.S.-led NATO forces. Four Haqqani insurgents were arrested on Sunday over an assassination attempt on Afghan Vice President Karim Khalili, an Afghan intelligence agency spokesman told Reuters.

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 Taliban also claim to have attacked President Hamid Karzai's presidential palace compound, according to NBC’s Akbar Shinawar in Kabul, although that claim could not immediately be verified.

The Afghan National Security Forces said the attacks were "largely ineffective."

But Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said that "no one is underestimating the seriousness of today’s attacks."

"The fighting goes on this evening, and (International Security Assistance Force) is standing by to support our Afghan partners when and if they need it," he said. "I consider it a testament to their skill and professionalism - of how far they've come - that they haven't yet asked for that support."

The Afghan Ministry of Interior told NBC News that 11 suicide attackers were killed across Afghanistan by Afghan security forces. In total, 14 police and nine civilians were wounded, it said.

NBC News reported that police captured two attackers with suicide-bomb vests and destroyed a car full of explosives near the Afghan parliament.

The U.S. Embassy was under lockdown and staff there were safe, spokesman Gavin Sundwall said. "The U.S. Embassy is currently in lockdown, following our standard operating procedures after hearing explosions and gunfire in the area," he said.

The U.S. Embassy also issued an alert message to Americans in Afghanistan, urging them to "exercise extreme caution" and "move to secure areas."

Taliban fighters also launched assaults in at least two provinces, a spokesman for the insurgents said.

The Taliban said in a statement three hours into the attack that "tens of fighters," armed with heavy and light weapons, and some wearing suicide-bomb vests, were involved.

The coordinated attack is bound to intensify concern in the run-up to the planned withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

The assault appeared to repeat the tactics of an attack in Kabul last September when insurgents entered construction sites in several places to use them as positions for rocket and gun attacks.

Taliban spokesman Mujahid said it had been easy to bring fighters into the capital, and they had had inside help to move heavy weapons into place.

Afghan security forces, who are responsible for the safety of the capital, were scrambling to reinforce areas around the so-called green diplomatic section of the city center.

Attackers fired a rocket-propelled grenade that landed just outside the front gate of a house used by British diplomats in the city center and smoke billowed from the area after the blast, a witness told Reuters.

British embassy sources said staff were in a lockdown.

Ahmad Jamshid / AP

A NATO soldier runs to the scene of a attack by Taliban militants in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday.

Two rockets hit a British Embassy guard tower near the Reuters office in the city.

Fighting was going on at some facilities of NATO's International Security Assistance Force and near the U.S., Russian and German embassies, ISAF said via Twitter.

An ISAF spokesman said there were no reports of casualties in the attacks on possibly seven locations in Kabul, and the U.S. Embassy said in a statement all its staff were accounted for and safe.

A U.S. defense official who declined to be identified said the attackers were using mostly small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, and "perhaps even suicide bombers."

Three rockets hit a supermarket that is popular with foreigners near the German embassy, Reuters witnesses said. News channel Al Jazeera reported that smoke was seen rising from the German embassy.

Smoke rose from the vicinity of the embassy while women scurried for cover as gunfire crackled.

As the shooting went on, U.S. Army convoys could be seen coming to the area accompanied by Afghan police in flak jackets.

Attackers also fired rockets at the parliament building in the west of the city, and at the Russian embassy, a spokesman for the parliament said.

Most MPs had left the building before it came under attack, said a lawmaker. However, one of several who fought back from a roof, Naeem Hameedzai, told Reuters: "I'm the representative of my people and I have to defend them."

Afghan media said insurgents had stormed the Star Hotel complex near the presidential palace and the Iranian embassy. Windows of the hotel were blown out and smoke billowed from the building.

In the eastern province of Paktia, NATO helicopter gunships attacked insurgents holed up in a building next to a construction site while in the eastern city of Jalalabad, a witness told Reuters that the Taliban had attacked a foreign force base near a school.

One Taliban insurgent was killed, another blew himself up and a third was captured. A blast also went off near the airport in Jalalabad, a witness said.

Reuters contributed to this report.