© Omar Sobhani/ReutersPolice investigators inspect the site of a suicide attack at the British Council in Kabul.
At least eight Afghan police and one foreigner are believed to have been killed after the Taliban marked the anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from Britain with an elaborate, multi-phased attack on the British Council building in Kabul.

The assault on the compound in the west of the city began when a suicide car bomber detonated a vehicle at the front gate of the compound.

Witnesses in nearby shops said several heavily armed insurgents then rushed out of a side street shouting, firing in the air and racing towards to the open gate. Afghan officials believed the number of attackers was between two and four.

All British nationals affected by the attack on the British Council in Kabul are now safe, said the Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt.

Jumadin, a worker at a nearby petrol station, said the force of the initial blast was enough to throw him across the ground. "I thought I was going to die," he said.

"When the policemen rushed to the area from the police district at least three were shot dead near the building."

At midday the relatively upscale Kabul neighbourhood resembled a war zone.

Six hours after the beginning of the attack, fighting continued between the attackers and security forces, including British troops. Loud explosions and long bursts of gunfire could be heard from within the building, circling helicopters released counter-missile flares and a medical evacuation helicopter briefly landed and then departed again just 50m from the site.

After an initial period when the fighting appeared to have ended, a volley of machine-gun fire sent British soldiers ducking behind their armoured vehicles.

Afghan officials said at least one attacker was still at large in the compound.

With the injured rushed to a variety of different hospitals and the building still not cleared, estimates of the number killed and wounded varied wildly. The interior minister said it thought 12 people had been injured and eight killed, all of whom were either police or private security guards.

The heavily fortified compound is usually protected by a mixed force of Afghan and Nepali guards.

"It is a sad fact that once again an attack aimed at the international community has killed Afghans," Burt said.

"This attack, against people working to help build a better future for Afghanistan, will not lessen the UK's resolve to support the Afghan people."

British soldiers rushed to the UK government's cultural and educational mission in the country, joining Afghan police, soldiers and the New Zealand SAS.

The area hosts not only the British Council, but also two of the country's top politicians - the leader of the opposition and one of Hamid Karzai's vice-presidents.

Despite the assistance of the Afghan and international forces an insurgent was still at large in the compound more than six hours after the attack.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman reached by phone, said the target was both the British Council and a guesthouse that he claimed, it would appear incorrectly, was located in the same compound.

"We attacked the buildings because we want to remind the British that we won our independence from them before and we will do it again," he said.

Although Afghanistan was not a formal colony of Britain at the time, the country celebrates the end of the Third Anglo-Afghan war in 1919, a small-scale affair compared with the preceding conflicts, when the country won the right to pursue a foreign policy independent of the British Raj.

The Afghan government, which has in the past tried to restrict the live coverage of terrorist attacks, appeared to put restraints on at least one television channel called Afghan News, which abruptly dropped its reporting to switch to patriotic songs.

Journalists were also ordered to stop taking photos when what appeared to be a seriously wounded New Zealand special forces soldier was stretchered out of the building and loaded on to the medevac helicopter.

New Zealand's SAS, which runs a quick reaction force for Kabul, also suffered casualties during June's siege of the Intercontinental Hotel. One soldier suffered a chest would while the other broke his jaw in the fighting.

New Zealand special forces also insisted photographers stop taking photos. They said it was to protect the identities of the wounded being removed from the building, although special forces also try to avoid being photographed.

Even as fighting continued President Karzai, senior officials and some diplomats marked the anniversary with a small ceremony inside the walls of his massively fortified palace compound on the other side of Kabul.