– By HEIDI VOGT and MIRWAIS KHAN

The Associated Press

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – The Taliban unleashed a major assault Saturday on government buildings throughout Afghanistan’s main southern city, an attack that cast doubt on how successful the U.S.-led coalition has been in its nearly yearlong military campaign to establish security and stability in the former Taliban stronghold.

The Taliban said their goal was to take control of Kandahar city, making the strike the most ambitious of a series of recent high-profile attacks on government installations.

The attack came a day after the Islamic movement said Osama bin Laden’s death would only serve to boost morale, but a Taliban spokesman insisted it had been in the works for months before the al-Qaida leader was killed by American commandos on Monday.

Shooting started shortly after midday and government forces were backed by military helicopters firing from overhead. At least eight locations were attacked: the governor’s compound, the mayor’s office, the intelligence agency headquarters, three police stations and two high schools according to government officials.

The attackers at the governor’s compound were finally pushed back around nightfall and Gov. Tooryalai Wesa called reporters in for a news conference at his reclaimed office while fighting continued at the intelligence agency a mile away.

At least one police officer and one civilian were killed and 20 other people wounded in the assaults, Wesa said, adding that the death toll was likely to rise as troops searched the area.

He said six Taliban fighters also were killed.

Provincial government spokesman Zalmai Ayubi confirmed at least six assault locations — the three government buildings and the police stations. A statement from the president’s office said two high schools had also been attacked.

The Taliban said more than 100 militants flooded into the city — including many escaped convicts who had been freed in a bold Taliban prison break last month. They were told to target any building used by the government or security forces.

“We are taking control of the entire city. We are at every corner,” Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said by phone.

The Taliban usually exaggerate the scale of their attacks, and it is unlikely the movement would have the strength or the numbers to actually take over Kandahar.

A NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to let the Afghan government make official statements, said the insurgents have not controlled any part of the city during Saturday’s assaults.

But Saturday’s attack shows their resilience and determination in the face of a massive international push to remove them permanently from the city that was once their capital. Government officials said they had no accurate estimate of how many attackers were involved.

The persistent violence has complicated the situation for U.S. and NATO allies who are hoping to pull out troops. President Obama wants to start drawing down forces in July and the alliance has committed to handing over control of security to Afghans by 2014.

President Hamid Karzai expressed belief the attack was an effort to avenge bin Laden’s death, and called it reprehensible.

The Taliban have promised more large attacks as part of a spring offensive.

Shopkeepers closed down their stores and the streets emptied of people and cars as Kandahar residents hunkered down to wait out the fight.