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What the Taliban are calling the start of their spring offensive kept security forces across Afghanistan fighting throughout Sunday and into this morning. Officials say 36 insurgents were killed in Kabul and three other eastern provinces. Three civilians died in the attacks, and eight members of the police and army were killed. American officials are praising Afghan forces, but questions remain about how the insurgents were able to infiltrate the most secure parts of the capital. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.
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QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: The attacks began in broad daylight on Sunday, but continued into the night.
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LAWRENCE: Afghan special forces laid siege to a half-finished construction site with a commanding view of embassies and government ministries inside what has become Kabul's green zone. Across town, near the Afghan parliament, insurgents took over a similar building and began firing rocket grenades and heavy machine guns.
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LAWRENCE: Afghan forces took the lead, but as the standoff dragged to 12 and then 14 hours, U.S. helicopters were called in to help.
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LAWRENCE: Mid-morning local time, authorities were still carefully trying to enter the attack site, discovering hand-grenade booby traps in the building. That's why it took so long to kill the small number of attackers, said Sadiq Sadiqi, a government spokesman at the scene.
SADIQ SADIQI: Why? Because we have to save people. People's lives are so important to us. We have to save our own security forces, as well. They have come here to commit suicide. They want to kill themselves and the others, but our job is to protect.
LAWRENCE: But Sadiqi called the Taliban forces strong and suggested they have support from Pakistan's intelligence service, which helped them conduct such attacks even in the heart of fortified Kabul.
SADIQI: It's too early to comment about the failures and about how they got there. But our answer is that they were beaten hard. We controlled the damage.
LAWRENCE: One Afghan bank employee said he was trapped in the basement of his nearby office for hours. He escaped home to a sleepless night of explosions with his terrified family. But the man, who gave his name as Wahidi, said terrifying civilians isn't the mark of a strong army.
WAHIDI: It shows their weakness, because they are not able to fight face-to-face.
LAWRENCE: Wahidi said he thought the Afghan army had fought well, but he said there was little doubt that the Taliban would be capable of similar attacks in the future. Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.