KABUL, (Reuters) – At least 10 Afghan civilians were killed when suicide bombers and heavily armed Taliban insurgents attacked a hotel frequented by Westerners in the Afghan capital late yesterday, Afghan officials said.
Helicopters from the NATO-led force killed the last three insurgents in a final rooftop battle, a coalition spokesman said. Smoke rose from the roof of the Intercontinental hotel as the sun rose over Kabul after a battle lasting several hours.
“At least 10 civilians, including hotel staff, were killed when six suicide bombers attacked the Intercontinental,” Mohammad Zahir, the head of the Kabul police crime unit, told Reuters.
Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, said at least six Afghans had been killed.
The attack came the night before the start of a conference about the gradual transition of civil and military responsibility from foreign forces to Afghans. The hotel was not one of the venues to be used by the conference or its delegates, an Afghan government official said.
It was also a week after U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans for the initial withdrawal of 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, with another 23,000 to leave by the end of 2012.
Reuters witnesses heard at least seven blasts over the course of more than two hours, with bursts of gunfire heard during the late-night attack on the Intercontinental, one of two main hotels used by foreigners and Afghan government officials in Kabul.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said there had been gunfire coming from inside the hotel.
“Two ISAF helicopters have … engaged three individuals on the roof,” coalition spokesman Major Tim James said. “The indications are that the three individuals on the roof have been killed.”
One Reuters witness said smoke could be seen rising from the hotel, although no fires were visible. Afghan security forces surrounded the hotel and firefighters arrived after the last of the insurgents were killed.
Sediqqi said six or seven insurgents had been involved in the attack, one of the worst in the Afghan capital in months. “All have been killed,” he said.