Kabul (AFP) - Sixteen people were killed Wednesday in simultaneous Taliban suicide assaults on two security compounds in Kabul, as the insurgents ramp up attacks even before the start of their annual spring offensive.
Dozens of others were wounded as explosions and gunfire echoed through the capital, in a day of carnage that underscores rising insecurity in Afghanistan over the resurgent Taliban.
A suicide car bomber struck an Afghan police precinct in western Kabul and a gun battle ensued after another attacker snuck in, officials said, in a five-hour assault which sent clouds of acrid smoke billowing into the sky.
In the second attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gates of an Afghan intelligence agency branch in eastern Kabul while another assailant was gunned down while trying to enter the compound, officials added.
"Fifteen people were killed in the attack on the police compound and one person died in the second assault," health ministry spokesman Waheed Majroh told AFP, warning that the toll could spike further.
"At least 104 others were wounded, some of them seriously."
The Taliban claimed both assaults, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid calling them "martyrdom attacks" in a Twitter message. The insurgents also asserted responsibility for a third attack on a military school, but the authorities dismissed the claim.
Afghan police and troops are battling an emboldened Taliban as the insurgents escalate nationwide attacks, even in winter months when the fighting usually wanes.
The country is bracing for an intense new Taliban fighting season in the spring as the government's repeated bids to launch peace negotiations have failed.
But in a statement condemning the attack, President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban were "launching such attacks to raise the morale of their fighters" after the recent killing of insurgent commander Mullah Salam.
Salam, who twice oversaw the capture of the strategic northern city of Kunduz, was killed on Sunday in a US air strike in a blow to the militant group.
- 'Extraordinary cowardice' -
"We share the sorrow of all Afghans over these heinous acts," said the US embassy in Kabul, condemning the attack.
"To callously target Afghan men and women who devote their lives to serving and defending their fellow citizens, as the Taliban did today, is an act of extraordinary cowardice."
The latest violence comes two days after an Afghan policeman linked to the Taliban shot dead 11 of his colleagues at a checkpoint in the southern province of Helmand, in the latest so-called insider attack.
Such attacks -- when Afghan soldiers and police turn their guns on their colleagues or on international troops -- have sapped morale and caused deep mistrust within security ranks.
Afghan forces, already beset by record casualties, desertions and non-existent "ghost soldiers" on the payrolls, have been struggling to rein in the Taliban since US-led NATO troops ended their combat mission in December 2014.
Kabul last month endorsed US general John Nicholson's call for thousands of additional coalition troops in Afghanistan to fend off the militants before the spring offensive.
Extra troops were needed to end the stalemate in the war, Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, told the US Congress in what could be President Donald Trump's first major test of military strategy.
Separately, the Pentagon this year said it would deploy some 300 US Marines this spring to Helmand province alone.
The Marines will assist a NATO-led mission to train Afghan forces, in the latest sign that foreign forces are increasingly being drawn back into the worsening conflict.