KABUL, Afghanistan - NATO helicopters fired rockets at gunmen on the rooftop of a besieged Kabul hotel early Wednesday, ending a more than four-hour standoff between militants and police that left at least seven dead and eight others wounded, Afghan officials said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said six suicide bombers attacked the Inter-Continental hotel frequented by Afghan officials and foreign visitors. He said two were killed by hotel guards at the beginning of the attack and four others either blew themselves up or were killed in the airstrike or by Afghan security forces.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the rare, nighttime attack in the capital - an apparent attempt to show that they remain potent despite heavy pressure from coalition and Afghan security forces.
The attack was a rare, nighttime assault in the Afghan capital, CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark reports. Maj. Gen. Mohammad Zahir, the head of criminal investigations with the Kabul police, told CBS News that three police officers were injured in the attack along with a number of civilians.
Clark reports the hotel, the Inter-Continental, was scheduled to host a meeting of high-level government officials Wednesday about the handover of security operations from U.S. forces to the country's government in 2014.
The attackers were heavily armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and grenade launchers, the Afghan officials said. Afghan police rushed to the scene and firefights broke out. They battled for hours with gunmen who took up positions on the roof.
Some Afghan provincial officials were among the 60 to 70 guests staying at the hotel.
The Inter-Continental known widely as the "Inter-Con" opened in the late 1960s, was the nation's first international luxury hotel. It has at least 200 rooms and was once part of an international chain. But when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the hotel was left to fend for itself.
It was used by Western journalists during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The Inter-Continental is not a magnet for westerners, CBS News reports. Most westerners stay at the Serena hotel in the center of the city.
Abdul Zahir Faizada, who is head of the local council in Herat province in western Afghanistan, was staying at the hotel. He planned to attend a conference in Kabul on Wednesday to discuss plans for Afghan security forces to take the lead for securing an increasing number of areas of the country between now and 2014 when international forces are expected to move out of combat roles. Afghans across the country were in the city to attend.
"We were locked in a room. Everybody was shooting and firing," said Faizada who was staying at the hotel with the mayor of Herat city and other officials from the province. "I heard a lot of shooting."
Deputy police chief in Kabul, Daoud Amin, said seven people died in the attack and eight other people - two policemen and six civilians - were wounded. The attackers are not counted in that death toll.
Nazar Ali Wahedi, chief of intelligence for Helmand province in the south, called the assailants "the enemy of stability and peace" in Afghanistan.
Wahedi, too, was in town to attend Wednesday's transition conference, which was being held at a government building in the capital.
"Our room was hit by several bullets," Wahedi said. "We spent the whole night in our room."