Tuesday 20 February 2018

Nato ends deadly Taliban siege at luxury Kabul hotel

Non-Afghan soldiers leave after taking part in a military operation against Taliban militants that attacked the Intercontinental hotel in Kabul Photo: Getty Images
Non-Afghan soldiers leave after taking part in a military operation against Taliban militants that attacked the Intercontinental hotel in Kabul Photo: Getty Images
An Afghan soldier aims his gun as he guards the area surrounding the Intercontinental hotel. Photo: Getty Images
Smoke and flames light up the night from a blaze at the Intercontinental hotel after the Taliban attack. Photo: Getty Images

Farhad Peikar and Lianne Gutcher in Kabul and Dean Nelson in New Delhi and Andy Bloxham

A Nato Apache helicopter gunship and Western special forces teams including snipers ended a five-hour siege at the Intercontinental hotel in Kabul in which 11 people were killed.

Six Taliban commandos fought their way into the hotel, one of the most high-profile in the Afghan capital, by destroying the security checkpoint when one of them detonated a suicide bomb.

They had been able to approach the gates unhindered because they were wearing Afghan police or army uniforms, reports suggested.

There were reports that the suicide bomber had hidden in a room of the hotel overnight before detonating his device.

The remaining five raiders, armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades and some wearing explosive suicide vests, then swarmed into the lobby.

The gunmen began to hunt for Westerners, floor by floor and room by room.

A wedding party and a meeting of several provincial governors were underway at the time and guests barricaded themselves into their rooms.

Three of the gunmen got to the roof and began firing indiscriminately and dropping grenades before the Nato gunship arrived and quickly killed them all.

Afghan forces arrived but it was Nato ground units, armed with suppressed sub-machine guns and covered by comrades with high-powered sniper rifles, who entered the hotel to end the siege.

After dawn, with parts of the hotel still on fire, a squad of troopers were seen leaving, bloodied but apparently not wounded.

Several people were shot by the poolside. All the dead are believed to be Afghans.

A spokesman for the Afghan government said all the Taliban commandos had been killed.

By the time NATO forces killed the remaining Taliban fighters, who had barricaded themselves on the roof of the Inter-Continental hotel in West Kabul, up to 11 people had been killed. There were conflicting claims over whether the victims, mainly hotel staff, included two foreign visitors.

The insurgents had targeted the hotel as it hosted a number of foreign officials and Afghan provincial governors who were in the capital for a summit of the International Contact Group of Afghanistan’s top aid donors and a meeting of top American, Afghan and Pakistani officials to discuss the transition to Afghan-led security in the country and peace talks with the Taliban. President Obama’s special envoy Marc Grossman had been in Kabul to meet President Karzai earlier yesterday.

The failure of the Afghan National Army to halt the assault has highlighted grave concerns about whether the force is anywhere near ready to take responsibility for security when President Obama’s troop withdrawal gathers pace.

Eight Taliban fighters in suicide vests and armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades stormed the five-storey building Intercontinental Hotel at 10pm local time on Tuesday. Police officials said that at least one bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance, opening the way for his comrades to enter the main building. A wedding party was under way when the militants struck.

A spokesman for the Taliban had claimed more than 50 people had been killed in a room to room hunt for victims, but Afghan officials said between eight and 11 had been killed by the terrorists. An interior ministry spokesman said there were no foreigners among the eight killed and eight injured in the attack, but his claim was contradicted by mohammad Zahir, head of criminal investigation at Kabul Police, who said two foreigners had died.

Two policemen were also among eleven victims, he said.

Questions will now be asked about the failure of Afghan forces to kill a small handful of Taliban fighters exposed on a relatively low-rise roof and its continuing reliance on Western forces to tackle minor sieges.

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