At least eight people died in a dawn attack Friday by a Taliban unit against the U.S. Consulate in the western city of Herat, Afghan officials said.

The attack began with a car-bomb explosion in front of the building, after which five insurgents were able to penetrate the first security cordon around the diplomatic seat, authorities told Tolo television.

After a two-hour shootout with the military forces guarding the premises, the five assailants were killed, as were two security guards and an Afghan civilian who was caught in the crossfire.

The attack wiped out a large part of the defensive structure of the consulate, according to witnesses cited by Tolo.

The attack came during one of the bloodiest moments of the Afghanistan war, which coincides with the gradual withdrawal of NATO troops as their security missions are taken over by the army and police of the Kabul government. EFE