WATCH: Taliban gunmen, some wearing suicide vests, launched a commando-style assault on government buildings in the center of Kabul.
KABUL (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai says security in the capital, Kabul, is now under control after militants launched a series of attacks in the heart of the city that left at least 12 dead.
"The Afghan president wants to assure the inhabitants of Kabul that the security situation is under control and order has once again been restored," Karzai's palace quoted him as saying in a written statement.
Earlier today, suspected Taliban militants launched a series of attacks, setting off explosions and sparking gun battles.
The fighting took place in an area around government buildings, the presidential palace, the Central Bank, the Justice Ministry, the Serena Hotel, and a shopping center.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said 20 Taliban fighters, including suicide bombers, were involved in the attack, which he said targeted the presidential palace and government buildings.
Afghanistan's Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said 12 people, including seven militants, were killed, and more than 70 were wounded.
It is the latest in a series of increasingly brazen attacks by militants on the Afghan capital, showing the insurgents' ability to break through to the most protected part of the city.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul condemned the militants' "disregard" for Afghan lives as "deplorable."Under Siege
Reuters quoted Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Azimy as saying the Grand Afghan (Feroshgah-e Afghan) shopping center, a large indoor shopping mall, was under siege, with gunmen holed up inside.
"Four guys holding [hiding] weapons of different kinds and bullets under their shawls got into the [shopping center] early in the morning," a shopkeeper in the mall who witnessed the attack told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan. "They called on everyone to evacuate the building if they wished to stay alive. Many shopkeepers...remained trapped and locked in the basement."
Reports say there was an explosion at the presidential palace gate, and that another hit the Cinema Pamir in a different part of Kabul.
An Afghan National Army soldier keeps watch as smoke billows from a building after clashes between Taliban-linked militants and security forces in Kabul today.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told Radio Free Afghanistan that 20 Taliban fighters, including suicide bombers, were involved in the attack, which he said targeted the presidential palace and government buildings.
Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke condemned the attackers as "desperate" and "ruthless."
"The people who are doing this will certainly not survive the attack, nor will they succeed, but we can expect this sort of thing on a regular basis," Holbrooke said. "That is who the Taliban are. They are part of a set of extremist groups operating in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they do these desperate things all the time, as everyone here in India knows."
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said international forces were "working closely” with Afghan forces to secure the area.
The force said Afghan security forces had secured roads in central Kabul.
The deputy governor of the central bank, Mohib Safi, told The Associated Press that bank employees heard a strong explosion followed by gunfire. He said employees were safely inside and that no militants had entered the building.Amid Political Uncertainty
The AP said another huge explosion was heard less than two hours later at an intersection between the Foreign Ministry and the Education Ministry.
NATO helicopters were hovering over the neighborhood where the fighting was taking place
Militants have become aggressive in challenging Afghan and international forces as the U.S. and NATO allies begin sending 37,000 more troops to join the fight.
On October 28, five UN staff and three attackers were killed in a raid on a Kabul guest house occupied by United Nations employees. The incident prompted the organization to evacuate most of its Kabul-based staff.
Today’s violence came amid continuing political uncertainty in Afghanistan, ahead of the key London Conference on Afghanistan later this month.
The attack came as some members of Karzai's cabinet were being sworn in.
Presidential spokesman Waheed Omar said the swearing-in had occurred as scheduled and everybody in the palace was safe.
Parliament has twice rejected many of Karzai's nominations for a new cabinet.
Karzai was reelected last August in a vote marred by fraud.