(CBS/AP) KABUL, Afghanistan - The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said a militant attack on a lakeside hotel in which 18 people were killed was likely carried out by fighters loyal to the Haqqani network.
The al Qaeda-linked group is based in Pakistan and regularly targets Afghan and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and conducts deadly attacks in Kabul.
Late Thursday heavily-armed Taliban insurgents stormed the Spozhmai hotel at Qargha Lake, a popular weekend retreat about a half-hour drive north from the capital Kabul, and opened fire on guests inside. Most of those killed were civilians.
The 12-hour long siege ended Friday morning, after Kabul police said five attackers had been shot and killed.
"This attack bears the signature of the Haqqani network, which continues to target and kill innocent Afghans and blatantly violate Afghan sovereignty from the safety of Pakistan," U.S. Gen. John R. Allen said.
Allen said that some victims were killed in their sleep.
He added that the coalition provided "minimal support" at the Afghans' request.
Officials have told The Associated Press that U.S. military and intelligence officials are so frustrated with Pakistan's failure to stop local militant groups from attacking Americans in neighboring Afghanistan that they have considered launching secret joint U.S.-Afghan commando raids into Pakistan to hunt them down.
But the idea, which U.S. officials say comes up every couple of months, has been consistently rejected because the White House believes the chance of successfully rooting out the deadly Haqqani network would not be worth the intense diplomatic blowback from Pakistan that inevitably would ensue.
The al Qaeda-allied Haqqani tribe runs a mafia-like smuggling operation and occasionally turns to terrorism with the aim of controlling its territory in eastern Afghanistan. The Haqqanis use Pakistani towns to plan, train and arm themselves with guns and explosives, cross into Afghanistan to attack NATO and Afghan forces, then retreat back across the border to safety.
Earlier this month in Kabul Defense Secretary Leon Panetta voiced frustration with Pakistan's failure to tackle the tribe's safe havens, saying the U.S. was "reaching the limits" of its patience. He added that the U.S. was "extraordinarily dissatisfied with the effect that Pakistan has had on the Haqqanis."
The brazen attack was a dramatic reminder of the Taliban's resiliency as insurgents push hard with their summer offensive in a show of strength as U.S.-led forces prepared to withdraw by the end of 2014.
Insurgents first killed the security guards at the hotel, then pushed their way inside and began firing at guests who were having a late-night meal. Some of the guests escaped while others were held hostage as the attackers battled Afghan security forces who rushed to the scene for the next 12 hours.
Mohammad Zahir, criminal director for Kabul police, said the hotel was crowded when the attackers entered and opened fire on families having a late dinner.
"Some of the guests jumped from the window into the hotel yard. They were hiding under trees or any safe place they could find," he said. "Three of the guests jumped into the lake and hid in the water."