KABUL // The Afghan president Hamid Karzai said yesterday that a coordinated Taliban attack in the capital showed a "failure" by Afghan intelligence and especially by Nato, as heavy street fighting came to an end after 18 hours.
Battles that broke out at midday on Sunday gripped Kabul's central districts through the night, with large explosions and gunfire lighting up alleys and streets.
"The fact terrorists were able to enter Kabul and other provinces was an intelligence failure for us and especially for Nato," Mr Karzai's office said.
Though the death toll was relatively low considering their scale, the attacks still highlighted the ability of militants to strike at high-profile targets in the heart of the city.
Mr Karzai echoed his western backers by praising Afghan security forces, saying they proved their ability to defend their country - a task that will increasingly fall to them as foreign armies reduce their troop numbers in Afghanistan.
His office said 36 insurgents were killed in the attacks, which also targeted three other Afghan provinces in what the Taliban called the start of a spring offensive. One fighter was captured.
Eleven members of the Afghan security forces and four civilians were killed in the attacks on Kabul and the Nangarhar, Logar and Paktia provinces.
"In only a short time we managed to cut short their devilish plans," said the defence ministry chief of operations, Afzal Aman. "They carried suicide vests but managed to do nothing except be killed."
The attacks were another setback in Afghanistan for the United States president Barack Obama, who wants to present the campaign against the Taliban as a success in his reelection bid before most foreign combat troops leave by the end of 2014.
Insurgents were killed attacking the Afghan parliament and in a multi-storey building under construction that they had occupied to fire rocket-propelled grenades and rifles down on the fortified diplomatic enclave.
More were killed in Kabul's east and while attacking a Nato base in the city of Jalalabad. Fighting in the capital ended when special forces mounted assaults as dawn broke.
Nato helicopters strafed gunmen in the building site, which overlooked the Nato headquarters and several embassies, including the British and German missions.
Afghan soldiers scaled scaffolding to outflank the insurgents, who took up defensive positions on the upper floor of the half-built structure.
"I could not sleep because of all this gunfire. It's been the whole night," said resident Hamdullah.
The assault, which began with attacks on embassies, a supermarket, a hotel and the parliament, was one of the most serious on the capital since US-backed Afghan forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, but some officials said the Haqqanis, a network of ethnic Pashtun tribal militants allied with the Taliban, were likely involved.
"My guess, based on previous experience here, is this is a set of Haqqani network operations out of North Waziristan and the Pakistani tribal areas," the American ambassador, Ryan Crocker, said.
North Waziristan, in Pakistan, is a notorious militant hub.
"Frankly I don't think the Taliban is good enough," Mr Crocker said.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the assaults marked the beginning of a new warm-weather fighting season.
He said the onslaught was revenge for a series of incidents involving US troops in Afghanistan - including the burning of copies of the Quran at a Nato base and the massacre of 17 civilians by a US soldier. He vowed there would be more.
The Taliban said on Sunday that the main targets were the German and British embassies and the headquarters of the Nato-led force. Several Afghan members of parliament joined security forces in repelling attackers from a roof near parliament.
The attacks came a month before a Nato summit at which the United States and its allies want to put the finishing touches to plans for the transition to Afghan security control and days before a meeting of defence and foreign ministers in Brussels to prepare for the alliance summit in Chicago.