KABUL (AFP) - Militants launched a suicide attack near Kabul airport shortly after dawn on Monday, taking over a building which security forces attempted to storm as blasts and gunfire rocked the Afghan capital.
Loud explosions and bursts of small-arms fire erupted for at least 90 minutes and were ongoing, with the US embassy sounding its "duck and cover" alarm and its loudspeakers warning that the alarm was not a drill.
"An explosion... occurred after which a group of suicide attackers entered a building in Qasaba road, west of Kabul airport, and started sporadic shooting," Hashmat Stanikzai, Kabul's police chief, said in a statement.
"Now the area is sealed off by the security forces and a stand-off between security forces and the attackers is ongoing."
Stanikzai said he was unable to confirm the exact target of the attack, but the explosions came from close to the airport on the northeast side of the city.
Kabul last came under attack on May 24, when Taliban militants launched a coordinated suicide and gun attack on a compound of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
One insurgent detonated himself outside the compound in the centre of the city at the start of fighting, which left several buildings destroyed or damaged by rocket-propelled grenades, gunfire and explosions.
A policeman, two civilians and all four militants died in that attack, with the government lauding the response of the Kabul security forces for preventing further casualties.
The effectiveness of Afghan forces is crucial to the government's ability to defeat the Taliban insurgency as 100,000 NATO-led combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
The police, army and special forces are being trained by the international coalition, but there are widespread fears that they will not be able to impose security after 12 years of war.
On Saturday, an Afghan soldier shot dead two US soldiers and one US civilian, the latest "insider attack" to undermine efforts by the two armies to work together to defeat the Taliban insurgency.
The killings in the eastern province of Paktika came on the same day that one Italian soldier died when a grenade was thrown into an armoured vehicle in Farah province, in the far west of the country.
In another recent attack to shake confidence in Afghanistan's prospects after 2014, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offices in the eastern city of Jalalabad were attacked on May 29.
The two-hour assault, which left one Afghan guard dead, was the first time ICRC offices have been targeted in Afghanistan since the aid organisation began work there 26 years ago.
The Taliban, who were ousted from power in Kabul in 2001, denied any involvement in the Jalalabad attack.
Insurgent spokesmen were not immediately available to comment on Monday's violence.