Deadly Taliban attack on Kandahar strikes police HQ

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A Taliban raid on the southern Afghan city of Kandahar has killed 19 people, including 15 policemen, officials say.

Militants armed with suicide bombs, guns and rocket-propelled grenades struck the police headquarters in the city centre around noon.

Explosions shook the area as Afghan security forces battled the attackers for several hours.

Dozens of people were reported injured in the attack on the city, which is the birthplace of the Taliban.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack: "The enemies of Afghanistan have once again shown their evil intent."

The Nato-led International Security Assistance Force said besides the 15 policemen, one Afghan intelligence official, one Afghan soldier and two civilians were killed.

A Taliban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, said his group had carried out the attack.

It began with several explosions near the headquarters of the provincial police.

There are reports at least one of the blasts was a car bomb and that two explosions may have been caused by suicide bombers.

Several militants wearing explosives vests then occupied a multi-storey wedding venue opposite the police headquarters and rained machine gun fire and grenades down on the police.

Shopkeepers shuttered their premises and people hid inside their homes as the fighting raged.

It took several hours for the security forces to end the attack. There were no reports of survivors among the militants.

There have been a number of assassinations and suicide attacks in Kandahar in recent months despite the presence of thousands of international troops in the province.

Last summer Nato-led forces began a rolling operation centred on Kandahar city, where Taliban flags were flying in some suburbs and the insurgents controlled many villages on the outskirts, says the BBC's Paul Wood in Kabul.

Despite the recent attacks, Nato says it is confident it has pushed the militants out, our correspondent says.