Taliban lay siege to Afghan hotel; 19 killed

Smoke and flames light up the night from a blaze at the Intercontinental hotel after an attack on the hotel by Taliban fighters and a response by Afghan security forces backed by NATO helicopters in Kabul on June 29, 2011.
Updated at 5:25 a.m. Eastern

When NATO helicopters fired rockets and Afghan forces rushed gunmen on the rooftop of a besieged Kabul hotel early Wednesday, it appeared that the four-hour standoff with heavily armed Taliban fighters that killed 11 Afghan civilians — mostly hotel workers — was over.

But hours later, one more explosion rocked the Inter-Continental hotel. A lone suicide bomber, who had been injured in the attack, blew himself up in one of the rooms, said Kabul Police Chief Gen. Mohammad Ayub Salangi.

The attack on a five-story, Western-style hotel in the capital raised doubt about the ability of Afghan security forces to take charge of securing the nation from foreign combat forces.

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Salangi said the suicide attackers, who were able to penetrate the hotel's tight security, attacked at around 10 p.m. Tuesday on the eve of a conference about transferring responsibility for security across the nation from foreign combat troops to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014.

Latifullah Mashal, the spokesman of the Afghan National Directorate for Security, said eight suicide attackers were involved and all had either blown themselves up or been killed by Afghan or coalition forces. The 11 civilians killed included a judge from an unnamed province, five hotel workers and three Afghan policemen, Mashal said. He said no foreigners were killed, but two foreigners were among 14 people wounded in the attack. He did not disclose their nationalities.

CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark reports the Inter-Continental was used by Western journalists during the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but is no longer a magnet for Westerners. Most Americans and Europeans stay at the Serena hotel in the center of the city.

Nazar Ali Wahedi, chief of intelligence for Helmand province in the south, called the assailants "the enemy of stability and peace" in Afghanistan.

"Our room was hit by several bullets," said Wahedi, who is attending the conference elsewhere in the capital. "We spent the whole night in our room."

At around 3 a.m., two NATO helicopters opened fire on the roof of the hotel where militants had taken up positions. U.S. Army Maj. Jason Waggoner, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said the helicopters killed three gunmen and Afghan security forces clearing the hotel worked their way up to the roof and engaged the remaining insurgents.

As the helicopters attacked and Afghan security forces moved in, there were four massive explosions. Officials at the scene said the blasts occurred when security forces either fired on suicide bombers or they blew themselves up.

After the gunmen were killed, the hotel lights that had been blacked out during the attack came back on. Afghan security vehicles and ambulances were removing the dead and wounded from the area. Hours later, however, the last of the suicide bombers, who had been holed up in a room, blew himself up, the finale of the deadly night of violence.

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. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid later issued a statement claiming that Taliban attackers killed guards at a gate and entered the hotel.

"One of our fighters called on a mobile phone and said: 'We have gotten onto all the hotel floors and the attack is going according to the plan. We have killed and wounded 50 foreign and local enemies. We are in the corridors of the hotel now taking guests out of their rooms — mostly foreigners. We broke down the doors and took them out one by one."'

The Taliban often exaggerate casualties from their attacks.

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.

"We were locked in a room. Everybody was shooting and firing," said Abdul Zahir Faizada, head of the local council in Herat province in western Afghanistan, who was in town to attend the conference. "I heard a lot of shooting."

A few hours into the clashes, an Afghan National Army commando unit arrived at the hotel, situated on a hill overlooking the capital.