Afghan Hagel blast
Afghan National Army soldiers keep watch at the site of the attack in Kabul. - Reuters

At least nine civilians, including a woman, have been killed and a dozen injured in a suicide bomb attack outside the defence ministry office in the Afghan capital Kabul as US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel's is visiting the country.

"We can confirm a suicide improvised explosive device attack, followed by small arms fire, near the Afghan ministry of defence compound in central Kabul this morning," said a statement from the Nato-led coalition.

Hagel was in Kabul when the powerful blast took place but reports suggest that he was elsewhere at a US military facility.

"I saw [dead] bodies and wounded victims lying everywhere,'' he told the Associated Press. "Then, random shooting started and we escaped from the area," an eyewitness told AP.

The Afghan Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack saying the blast was a "message" for Hagel. He is due to hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"A suicide attacker has detonated himself within 30 metres (100 feet) of the defence ministry gate, there have been casualties among civilians, but defence ministry personnel have not suffered any casualties," defence ministry spokesperson, Zahir Azimi told AFP.

The latest blast has once again highlighted the challenges Afghan security forces are set to face after Nato forces leave the country in 2014.