Police search landmark Kabul hotel after Taliban raid kills 9
AFGHAN police sifted through one of Kabul’s landmark hotels room by room yesterday for any more casualties, securing the building after an overnight assault by Taliban suicide bombers killed eight Afghan civilians and police and a foreigner.
The nine attackers, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons, stormed the heavily guarded Intercontinental hotel, frequented by Westerners and VIPs, before a NATO helicopter killed the remaining insurgents in a final rooftop battle that ended a raid lasting more than five hours.
The foreign victim was a Spanish civil aviation pilot, according to Spain’s foreign ministry.
The brazen raid came only a week after US President Barack Obama announced a phased withdrawal of combat troops to 2014, and it raised more doubts about the ability of Afghan security forces to battle insurgents.
It needed a NATO helicopter to finally finish off the attackers, and NATO trainers helped oversee the Afghan police response to the raid.
After several explosions, attackers entered the hotel late on Tuesday and made their way to the ballroom, a hotel receptionist said.
Some carried tape recorders playing Taliban war songs and shot at anyone they saw. Guests jumped from second and third floors to escape, the receptionist said.
“The police are still searching room by room to see if there are any casualties or any threats,” Kabul police chief Ayoub Salangi told reporters.
Eight people were wounded in the attack, according to the Interior Ministry. There have been insurgent attacks at a hotel, guesthouse and a supermarket in Kabul over the past year, although the capital has been relatively quiet compared with the rest of the country.
The timing of the attack shows the Taliban retain the ability to strike at will despite gains made by NATO-led troops over the past 18 months.
Some guests included provincial governors attending a conference due to begin yesterday over the transition of civil and military responsibility from foreign forces to Afghans, two Afghan officials said.
Last week, Obama announced plans for an initial withdrawal of 10,000 US troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, with another 23,000 to leave by the end of 2012, sparking concern the Afghan security forces were not ready to take over. But President Hamid Karzai said the plan stood.
“This insurgent attack cannot stop our security transition process,” Karzai said.
Hours after the attack began, some foreign hotel guests were driven away in diplomatic vehicles while others waited on a street outside the hotel as the sun rose over Kabul.
Witnesses heard at least seven blasts over the course of more than five hours, with bursts of gunfire heard.
Three insurgents were shot dead while six blew themselves up.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said several fighters from the Islamist group had attacked the hotel.
Mujahid said heavy casualties had been inflicted.
The hotel was for years the city’s main hotel and is often used for conferences and by Westerners.