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Militants in brazen firefight inside fortified Afghan zone

Using fake badges to get into the presidential compound in Afghanistan, a heavily fortified area that includes the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters, the Taliban has launched a surprise attack. NBC's Duncan Golestani reports.

KABUL -- Insurgents launched a dramatic attack Tuesday inside a heavily-guarded part of the Afghan capital Kabul that contains the presidential palace, U.S. Embassy and headquarters for the NATO-led coalition forces.

The resulting firefight sent journalists waiting to attend a press conference with President Hamid Karzai scurrying for cover, along with a young child.

U.S. officials said that they believed five Afghans had been killed in the fighting. No American personnel were killed or injured.

The officials said the insurgents were thought to be from the Haqqani network, rather than the Taliban, despite the latter claiming responsibility for the attack.

The area is home to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and an annex of the U.S. Embassy at the old Ariana Hotel. The Central Intelligence Agency also has a base there.

The U.S. officials said the attack targeted the Ariana Hotel and not the palace as reported earlier.

The perimeter of the U.S. facilities was not breached.

There was speculation that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network might have been trying to disrupt mooted peace talks between the U.S. and Taliban in Doha, Qatar.

The early-morning assault, which rocked the center of Afghan capital with explosions and gunfire, took place exactly a week after the U.S.-led coalition handed control of security to local forces.

Hours earlier, U.S. Envoy James Dobbins was in the city to meet Karzai in a bid to defuse tensions over the talks.

Reporters were gathered at the palace awaiting a news conference with Karzai when insurgents began their assault on the building's east gate shortly after 6:30 a.m. local time (10 p.m. Monday ET).

Gunfire started about 100 yards away from the journalists in what is supposed to be the most secure part of Kabul. Reporters had passed through four checkpoints to get to the area.

Among those running for cover was a young boy from a nearby school who hid behind a wall with journalists.

For the next half hour, explosions were heard every few minutes and plumes of smoke rose over the city.

Guards in watchtowers exchanged gunfire with the militants for about 40 minutes until a nearby checkpoint was opened, allowing the trapped group - including the young boy - to leave the area.

A Taliban official said suicide bombers and small arms were used during the assault, and said that the presidential palace and the CIA's Afghan headquarters were the main targets of the attack.

NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell and Alastair Jamieson contributed to this report.


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