Taliban suicide bombers stormed a British charity compound in an upscale Kabul neighborhood shortly after dawn Friday, killing eight people during an eight-hour firefight as two English language teachers and their bodyguard hid in a locked panic room.
The assault came on the 92nd anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from Britain, and the Taliban described it as a warning to outsiders in the nearly decade-long war. The insurgents also hope to show that they remain a potent force despite taking heavy casualties from last year's buildup of U.S. and NATO troops.
The attack killed five Afghan policemen and a municipal worker. The two other victims were a security guard of unknown nationality and a New Zealand special forces soldier who was shot in the chest as he tried to free hostages, according to New Zealand defense chief Lt. Gen. Rhys Jones.
The soldier was the first member of the New Zealand Special Air Service, which mentors Afghan security forces, to be killed in this country. Sixteen others were wounded in the attack on the British Council, an international charity.
The two language teachers -- a Briton and a South African -- were sleeping at about 6 a.m. when a suicide bomber detonated explosives packed in a car outside the compound. The blast breached a wall. Another attacker rushed into the compound and blew himself up.
The two female teachers and their male British bodyguard ran to a safe room, where they stayed as militants and security forces fought for more than eight hours with rocket-propelled grenades, explosives, machine guns and rifles.
All three were rescued from the site, which was littered with debris from the initial twin explosions that shattered windows a third of a mile away.
The violence comes as Afghan forces have started to assume responsibility for security, a gradual process leading to the end of the foreign combat mission in 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, attending an independence ceremony at the presidential palace during the siege, said strikes on specific targets show that the insurgents are weak and cannot stand and fight the Afghan national security forces.
The U.S.-led coalition said Afghan troops led the assault on the insurgents at the British compound, with NATO troops providing assistance.
More than 200 Afghan policemen flooded the scene of the attack. NATO helicopters circled overhead.
At midday, coalition forces used canisters of red smoke to mark a landing zone in the middle of a street where two rescue helicopters picked up the dead and wounded. The fighting continued for three more hours. Afghan security forces said at least three insurgents fought from a secure bunker inside the compound.
At about 3 p.m., an AP reporter heard two powerful blasts. Part of the building turned to flames, and black smoke rose from the site. The battle was over as the last of the estimated five militants involved in the attack were killed.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said the attack was a signal to the British and their allies "that invading forces are to be doomed to destruction as the British Empire had been destined to failure 92 years ago."