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Originally published June 28, 2011 at 10:00 PM | Page modified June 29, 2011 at 6:39 AM

Helicopters end Kabul siege aimed at foreigners

Several heavily armed attackers stormed one of Kabul's fortified premier hotels Tuesday night in an apparent attempt to find and kill U.S. and Pakistani diplomats, only days after President Obama's announcement of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Several heavily armed attackers stormed one of Kabul's fortified premier hotels Tuesday night in an apparent attempt to find and kill U.S. and Pakistani diplomats, only days after President Obama's announcement of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.

Daoud Amin, Kabul's deputy police chief, said seven people were killed and eight others — two policemen and six civilians — were wounded in the assault on the Hotel Inter-Continental. The attackers are not counted in that toll.

No U.S. diplomats were among the casualties, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in an emailed statement. The U.S. government had no immediate information about private American citizens, she said.

A U.S. delegation led by Ambassador Marc Grossman, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, had left Kabul earlier and was en route to Washington, D.C, during the attack, Nuland said.

The attack underscored the still precarious nature of security, even in the capital, as the transfer of responsibility to Afghan forces is about to begin in several areas of the country, including Kabul.

The exact circumstances surrounding the six-hour assault were not clear even hours after the attack began and Afghan security forces had cordoned off the area.

The attackers were heavily armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades, hand grenades and grenade launchers, Afghan officials said. Police rushed to the scene, and firefights broke out. They battled for hours with gunmen who took up positions on the roof before a NATO airstrike ended the fighting.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said six suicide bombers attacked the hotel, and two were killed by hotel guards at the beginning of the attack. Four others blew themselves up or were killed by the NATO airstrike or by Afghan security forces, he said.

A NATO spokesman said the international forces tracked the situation through the night but left the fighting to the Afghans until early Wednesday, when the International Security Assistance Force was called in.

At least six stories high, the Inter-Continental is one of the largest hotels in Kabul and is frequented by foreigners and Afghan officials who stay there while in the city on business. The hotel also is used for conferences and political gatherings.

Abdul Zahir Faizada, head of the local council in Herat province in western Afghanistan, was staying at the hotel Tuesday. He planned to attend a conference 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 from across the country were in the city to attend.

"We were locked in a room. Everybody was shooting and firing," Faizada said. "I heard a lot of shooting."

The heavily guarded hotel, which sits on a hill on the western side of the city of 4 million, has police guards at its base and intelligence officers stationed atop the hill and near the entrance.

It was not clear how so many attackers could have breached the building's defenses.

As the helicopters attacked and Afghan security forces moved in, four massive explosions rocked the hotel. Officials said the blasts occurred when suicide bombers were fired upon or blew themselves up.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack while it was ongoing, saying insurgents intended to kill foreigners and Afghans, said Zabiullah Mujahid, the group's spokesman for northern and eastern Afghanistan.

"Our muj entered the hotel," he said, referring to the Taliban mujahedeen fighters, "and they've gone through several stories of the building and they are breaking into each room and they are targeting the 300 Afghans and foreigners who are staying."

Mujahid's claims could not be confirmed independently, but Samoonyar Mohammad Zaman, a security officer for the Ministry of Interior, was quoted on local television as saying 60 to 70 guests were staying at the hotel.

The attack occurred nearly a week after Obama announced he was withdrawing 33,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and would end the American combat role by the end of 2014.

Before the attack began, officials from the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan met in the capital to discuss prospects for making peace with Taliban insurgents to end the nearly decadelong war.

Obama said he could reduce the number of U.S. forces because the influx of about 30,000 troops that he ordered more than a year ago had succeeded in pushing back the Taliban.

Although the insurgents have been set back, particularly in their strongholds in the south, they continue to prove themselves capable of carrying out assassinations and suicide bombings even in urban centers.

Tuesday's attack was reminiscent of several other recent ones in which multiple insurgents have converged on a public place. More than 27 attackers converged on downtown Kandahar in May, killing four people, and seven gunmen wearing suicide vests entered the Kabul Bank branch in the eastern city of Jalalabad in February, killing 18 people.

Similarly, several suicide bombers and gunmen stormed a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul in October 2009. By the end of that siege, at least eight people were dead, along with three attackers.

In the summer of 2010 in the northern city of Kunduz, six suicide bombers entered a guesthouse used by Development Alternatives, a global development company under contract to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Four people were killed in that attack.

Compiled from The New York Times, Bloomberg News and

The Associated Press

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