Taliban Siege of Afghan Hotel Ends; 20 Killed

Posted June 22nd, 2012 at 8:50 am (UTC-5)
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Afghan officials say the militant siege of a lakeside hotel outside the capital has ended, with at least 20 people killed.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the nearly 12-hour attack on the Spozhmai Hotel outside Kabul that ended early Friday. Authorities say at least 16 civilians, three hotel guards and one police officer were killed.

Five militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests stormed the hotel late Thursday, killing the security guards and then firing at guests who were dining.

Militants then seized several hostages, including women and children. Officials say at least 250 guests were at the hotel during the attack, with some fleeing into the nearby forest and lake.

Afghan security forces were able to free more than than 40 hostages from the militants, and the siege ended with the death of the last attacker. NATO attack helicopters also provided support to Afghan forces.

A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the hotel was being used for wild parties, drinking and prostitution.

The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, said Friday's attack “bears the signature of the Haqqani network.” He said the group continues to target and kill innocent Afghans and violate Afghan sovereignty from, in his words, “the safety of Pakistan.” The al-Qaida-linked militant group is believed to be based in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region and is blamed for numerous attacks on international forces in Afghanistan.

The Spozhmai Hotel sits on the shores of Qargha Lake, where guests and families often gather on Thursday nights — the start of the Afghan weekend. The hotel is popular with wealthy Afghans, businessmen, and foreigners. Security at the hotel is light compared with targets inside Kabul.

Insurgents have launched similar attacks in the past, storming the Intercontinental Hotel near the capital last year and firing on embassies in Kabul from nearby high-rise buildings.

The latest attack came hours after Afghan President Hamid Karzai told parliament that insurgent attacks against Afghan police and soldiers are increasing as foreign combat troops prepare to pull out of the country.

On Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked U.S. and Afghan forces at a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, killing 21 people. Earlier in the week, militants breached the outer perimeter of a coalition base in the southern province of Kandahar, killing one person. That same day, in the same province — militants attacked a police checkpoint, killing three police officers.

International combat forces are in the process of withdrawing and transferring security responsibility to their Afghan counterparts by the end of 2014.

NATO said an insurgent attack killed one of its service members in southern Afghanistan on Friday.