Taliban attack police HQ in Kandahar

NATO and Afghan forces today battled Taliban militants attacking the police headquarters in Kandahar City, the capital of the insurgents' heartland and a focus of anti-war efforts.

The Taliban said six of its militants launched the assault on the provincial police compound in downtown Kandahar. A Reuters witness said gunmen were firing from a nearby wedding hall and reported hearing several explosions.

"Taliban fighters have inflicted casualties on the police," Taliban spokesman Quri Yousuf Ahmadi told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. NATO and Afghan officials said no casualties had been reported.

Kandahar province is the spiritual homeland of a tenacious Taliban insurgency now in its tenth year and key to US military efforts over the past 12 months to turn the tide of the war.

A spokesman for the NATO-led coalition said a 'quick reaction force' of NATO and Afghan troops had been sent to respond to the assault, which he said took place near the police headquarters and the provincial governor's office.

Members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) work out of both the police compound and the governor's office, Lieutenant Colonel Webster Wright said by telephone from Kandahar. NATO helicopters were flying over the scene of the battle.

Violence across the country is at its worst since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

Casualties on all sides are at record levels and the insurgency has spread from traditional strongholds in the south to previously peaceful areas of the north and west.

Last month, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed Kandahar's deputy governor as he left his home, the latest in a string of targeted killings that is hampering efforts to extend the rule of Afghanistan's central government.

US forces say they have made progress in securing parts of southern Afghanistan such as Kandahar, but the province and neighbouring Helmand remain the most dangerous for coalition troops.