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Militants lay siege to guesthouse in Afghanistan's capital (+video)

Afghan security forces have been struggling to fend off Taliban attacks since US and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of last year.

Heavy gunfire and explosions broke out again early Wednesday in an upscale neighborhood in Afghanistan's capital, as police surrounded a guesthouse popular with foreigners thought to be under attack by insurgents.

The firefight in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, home to several embassies, sounded to be focused on the Rabbani Guesthouse. It began just after 11 p.m. Tuesday local time, with heavy explosions accompanying sporadic automatic weapon fire.

Police could not be immediately reached for comment, though officers could be seen blocking off roads into the area. Police officers later smashed lights throughout the neighborhood to cover their movements.

As dawn broke at about 4 a.m., sustained gunfire erupted across the neighborhood again, broken by a series of explosions, including one huge blast that sent clouds of black smoke into the air.

Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi said a guesthouse appeared to be the target of the attack, without specifically naming the Rabbani. He said that two attackers had been killed and that authorities didn't know how many were involved in the assault.

Police fanned out around the neighborhood, taking up positions on rooftops.

The guesthouse, once known as the Heetal Hotel, was damaged in a December 2009 suicide car bomb attack near the home of former Afghan Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud – brother of legendary anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. That 2009 attack killed eight people and wounded nearly 40.

The hotel is owned by the Rabbani family, who include the late Burhanuddin Rabbani, who served as president of Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996, and current Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes amid intensified fighting across many parts of Afghanistan since the Taliban launched their warm weather offensive a month ago.

Taliban militants attacked a guesthouse earlier this month in Kabul, killing an American, a British citizen, an Italian, four Indian nationals, five Afghans and two Pakistanis. The United Nations already has documented a record high number of civilian casualties – 974 killed and 1,963 injured – in the first four months of 2015, a 16 percent increase over the same period last year.

Afghan security forces have been struggling to fend off Taliban attacks since US and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of last year.

On Tuesday, four militants launched an attack on a court in the capital of Wardak province, 25 miles from Kabul, said Attaullah Khogyani, a spokesman for the governor. One of the attackers blew himself up as the other three exchanged fire with police before being killed, Khogyani said.

In Uruzgan province, officials said that a district has been under attack by militants for the past two weeks.

"A high number of Taliban are attacking different checkpoints but we are not getting any response from senior officials in Kabul," district chief Abdul Karim Karimi said.

He said that since the fighting began, 12 soldiers have been killed and dozens were wounded.

"Unless we get government help, we are going to lose the district," he said.

On Monday, militants killed at least 26 police officers and soldiers in ambushes in southern Helmand province. As police retreated, militants surrounded the police headquarters of Naw Zad district and fired down on them from surrounding hills, district police chief Napas Khan said.

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