Kabul raid shows Taliban's strength, tests Afghan security coordination

While last night's deadly suicide raid on Kabul's InterContinental Hotel showcased Taliban capabilities, early details also indicate some success in the new model of having Afghan forces take more of a lead on security.

Smoke and flames rose from the Intercontinental Hotel during a battle between Afghan and NATO-led forces and suicide bombers and Taliban insurgents in Kabul last night.

An overnight Taliban raid on a famous hotel in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, has killed seven civilians and two police and was designed to undermine confidence in the upcoming handover of security from international to Afghan forces.

The raid ended at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday morning local time with the self-detonation of the ninth and final suicide bomber, according to interior ministry and Taliban sources. That final blast killed two policemen and a Spanish civilian.

The attack highlights the Taliban’s strength at penetrating security in Kabul, which is one of seven areas slated to be handed over to Afghan security next month. National and foreign representatives had converged on Kabul for a conference today on that transition. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says that meeting was a primary reason for the assault on the InterContinental Hotel as well as the fact the hotel houses foreign advisers.

While the raid showcased Taliban capabilities, it also put to the test Afghan and international coordination that will be necessary after next month’s handovers. Early details indicate some success for the model of putting Afghans on the front line, embedding trainers with those units, and calling for help when needed.

“Yesterday it looked to me that it worked rather effectively,” says Thomas Ruttig with the Afghanistan Analysts Network in Kabul. “But Kabul, of course, is probably better than other parts of the country. It depends how good the people on both sides are.”

Afghan forces take the lead

The attack began with a suicide bombing at a side gate to the hotel, killing police there and avoiding heavier security along the main entrance, according to Mr. Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman who says he maintained phone contact with the fighters during the raid.

“They went through all the hotel, opening the doors of each room and killing the people,” says Mujahid.

Afghan police and special forces led the response to the assault, which began late Tuesday night. They cut power to the hotel in order to plunge the militants into darkness.

The Afghans also called to international forces, known as ISAF, for aerial support. ISAF sent one Blackhawk helicopter and had others on standby if needed.

Afghan forces entered the hotel from the ground floor, working their way up to the roof, while the ISAF-operated Blackhawk engaged six militants on the roof. Contrary to earlier reporting, the Blackhawk had no rockets.

Instead, the six militants were killed by detonation of their suicide vests and small arms fire from the helicopter, according to ISAF spokesman Capt. Justin Brockhoff. He says the shooting from the helicopter stopped once Afghan forces appeared on the roof.

Coordinated response

“Afghan and ISAF forces coordinated closely during the response,” says Captain Brockhoff via e-mail. “The Afghan Crisis Response Unit had the lead, and ISAF had a small number of mentors with them to facilitate the coordination efforts.”

He adds: “This was a complex and deliberate attack that had the potential to become a far more serious incident, and the response clearly demonstrates the [Afghan security forces'] ability to react to and deal with security incidents in Kabul.”

However, it appears from overnight reports that the coalition believed the raid to be over around 3:00 a.m. But one attacker remained.

“One of our mujahideen was in contact with me until 8:00 am this morning from inside the hotel and was waiting for security people to enter, then he would attack. But after 8:00, we lost contact,” says Mujahid.

Mohammed Najib, assistant to the Ministry of Interior spokesman, confirmed that this final bomber blew himself up at 8:00 a.m., killing two police and a Spanish civilian. The six other civilians killed in the raid were Afghan. Thirteen people were also injured; five were police and the remaining were Afghan civilians.

Spain has about 1,500 troops in Afghanistan. The country has taken serious losses recently. On Sunday, two Spanish soldiers and another three were injured by an improvised explosive device (IED). Four more were killed earlier this month by another IED. Last August, a driver for Spanish police trainers shot two Spanish officers and their translator.

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