Employing a small army of suicide bombers and gunmen, the Taliban unleashed a multi-tiered assault today that targeted embassies, parliament and NATO headquarters in Kabul, in addition to attacks in Gardez and Jalalabad, cities in the eastern part of Afghanistan. An emboldened Taliban, seeking to hasten the planned exit of foreign troops by 2014, called the attacks the beginning of their "spring offensive." From a Taliban statement obtained by The New York Times:

 “It is also a message to those foreign commanders who claim that the Taliban have lost their momentum. We have just showed that we are here and we can stage an attack whenever we want.”

The first wave of attacks began at around 1:30 p.m. with a number of explosions in Akbar Khan, a neighborhood in Kabul that houses multiple diplomatic missions and NATO headquarters. Gunfire erupted, The Los Angeles Times reports, and continued for at least 30 minutes after that. The Associated Press reports sightings of militants perched in a tall building firing rocket-launchers towards the British Embassy; at the same time, the German and Russian embassies came under fire. The U.S. Embassy entered lockdown status immediately, with all personnel currently "safe," according to embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall. Shortly after, explosions were heard on the far side of the parliament, and Turkish forces reported coming under a "direct mortar attack" at their base on the city's outskirts.

In Jalalabad, site of an airfield housing U.S. troops, there were reports of four suicide attackers: "One blew himself up and three were intercepted," according to local police. In Paktia Province, three suicide bombers stormed a building near a police training center, according to Abdul Rahman Mangal, deputy provincial governor of Paktia. They they began firing at the academy with heavy artillery. At least four people have been wounded.

Pictured:  A NATO helicopter flies over the site of an attack in Jalalabad province as an Afghan National Army soldier stands guard. [Reuters]