KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan security forces exchanged sporadic gunfire on Wednesday with attackers who made use of a car bomb blast to invade the compound of an international aid group in Kabul, injuring at least two dozen people, authorities said.
Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack on the third day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that targeted the non-profit Counterpart International in the upscale Shahr Naw area of the capital.
Occasional gunshots and explosions were heard as special forces, backed by advisers from foreign forces, surrounded the site and engaged the attackers in a stand-off. Authorities cordoned off the area, sending ambulances and police trucks.
Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi said at least 80 employees of the aid group were rescued and security forces were clearing buildings there.
"Two floors of the building have been cleared and to avoid civilian casualties, the operation is being undertaken with caution," Rahimi said.
At least nine injured people were taken to hospital, said a health ministry spokesman, Wahidullah Mayar, while officials at the city's Emergency Hospital said they had received 15 wounded.
Officials of aid group Counterpart, which is headquartered in the United States and has operated in Afghanistan since 2005, were not immediately available to comment.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the aid group was working closely with government departments, promoting women, which is opposed by the Taliban.
Before it was toppled by U.S. and Afghan forces in late 2001, the harsh Taliban regime barred women from working outside their homes, and required them to be accompanied by a male relative.
Wednesday's bombing comes after Taliban insurgents vowed to attack Afghan government and foreign installations in their annual spring offensive.
Despite stepping up security at checkpoints around Kabul, Afghan authorities have failed to stop attacks that have killed and wounded hundreds of people and undermined confidence in the government.
Even as a sixth round of talks between the U.S. and the Taliban continues in Qatar, the hardline Islamist group has kept up its attacks.
The blast comes just over two weeks after gunmen targeted the communications ministry in central Kabul, killing at least seven people in an attack claimed by Islamic State.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Rupam Jain; Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)