KABUL, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that Afghanistan and the United States are engaged in peace talks with the Taliban, even as suicide bombers stormed a police station near the presidential palace, killing at least two police officers.
The brazen attack in the heart of Kabul's government district provided a sharp counterpoint to Karzai's announcement that the U.S. and Afghan government are in talks with the Taliban, the first official confirmation of such discussions. The violence also underscored the difficulty facing any possible negotiated settlement to the decade-long war.
Men dressed in Afghan army uniforms stormed the police station near the presidential palace and opened fire on officers as they tried to enter the building, said Mohammed Honayon, an eyewitness.
The crackle of gunfire could be heard across the capital as insurgents and security forces fought for control of the station. Kabul Police Chief Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi said the fighting ended by 3 p.m. local time. He said that two police officers had been killed and one injured. All three suicide attackers had also been killed, he said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to The Associated Press, saying three suicide bombers attacked the police training center.
The assault occurred shortly after Karzai, who is a strong proponent of peace discussions, announced during a speech at the presidential palace that his government and the U.S. have begun preliminary negotiations with the Taliban aimed at ending the conflict.
"In the course of this year, there have been peace talks with the Taliban and our own countrymen," Karzai said. "Peace talks have started with them already and it is going well. Foreign militaries, especially the United States of America, are going ahead with these negotiations."
Karzai said some of the Taliban emissaries that have met with members of the peace council he set up were only representing themselves, while others were speaking for the broader movement.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday.
The triple suicide attack in Kabul is rare. The capital is one of seven regions scheduled to be handed over to Afghan security control in late July. It is part of NATO's efforts to begin handing over guarding the nation ahead of its planned 2014 withdrawal from the country. The U.S. also plans to start a drawdown of troops in July.
The last major attack in Kabul was last month when a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan police uniform infiltrated the main Afghan military hospital in Kabul in late May. He killed six medical students. A month before that, a suicide attacker in an army uniform sneaked past security at the Afghan Defense Ministry, killing three.
Attacks have increased in Afghanistan since the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and the start of the Taliban's yearly spring offensive.
Associated Press writers Ahmad Seir and Amir Shah contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.