Taliban guerrillas armed with rocket-propelled grenades stormed a luxury hotel outside the Afghan capital of Kabul, taking more than 40 people hostage, and triggering a 12-hour gun battle that left 23 people dead.
The siege ended when five militants were shot dead by Afghan security forces supported by helicopter gunships from the U.S.-led international coalition force, according to an e-mail from Kabul’s police department. Fourteen Afghan civilians, three hotel guards and one policeman were killed in the attack on the Spozhmai hotel on Qarga Lake, according to the statement.
The Taliban attacked the hotel because it is a “place for Afghan and foreigners to hold non-Islamic parties, come on dates and where alcohol is drunk,” Zabihullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the group, said in a phone interview.
The attack is the latest blow to U.S.-led coalition troops as they aim to weaken the Islamic insurgent movement before handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces ahead of a withdrawal from the country in 2014. In the past two-and-a-half months, the Taliban have attacked government office buildings, including the parliament, the U.S., German and British embassies and the offices of two provincial governors.
The attack “bears all the hallmarks of the Haqqani” network, a militant Islamic group based in Pakistan and affiliated with the Taliban, U.S. Defense Department spokesman George Little told reporters at the Pentagon today. The group has become a major concern of U.S. commanders in Afghanistan and a growing source of friction between the Obama administration and Pakistan.
Security forces rescued more than 40 Afghans who were being held in the hotel by the gunmen, the police said. The hotel is located about nine kilometers (5.6 miles) outside Kabul and is popular with wealthy Afghans and tourists.
Four militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades, AK-47s and hand grenades entered the compound of the hotel at about 10 p.m. yesterday, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Siddiqui said in a phone interview. They forced their way into the hotel by shooting dead the hotel guards, the police said.
The attack took place as many guests were having dinner, Ayub Salangi, the police chief of Kabul said in a phone interview today. There were more than 300 people in the hotel at the time and to escape the gunfire, some guests jumped into the nearby lake, even though they could not swim, he said.
This was the latest indicator of the Taliban’s ability to hit high-profile targets close to the heart of the Afghan government. In April, militants fired rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at government buildings about a kilometer from President Hamid Karzai’s palace.
U.S. President Barack Obama plans to have the U.S. and its partners switch from the lead combat force in Afghanistan to supporting Afghan units by next year amid waning public support for a war now in its 11th year.