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Tuesday, June 28

Taliban claim attack on InterContinental Hotel in Kabul (UPDATED 6X)

UPDATE 5:00 PM EDT, June 29
Posted about a half hour ago AFP's report on the current death toll from the attack. Adds information that attackers avoided the road to the hotel compound and approached it by climbing wooded hillside.

This is the last update for this post; any other information I'll be passing along I'll place in a new post.

UPDATE 3:49 PM EDT, June 29
When I'd first posted about the attack on the InterContinental Hotel, which was while it was still in progress (see first entry below), I'd written that it seemed to be a 'swarm' attack. I was incorrect, but a discussion about the swarm tactic led me to review John Arquilla's advice on developing counter-swarm tactics, which I did in this Pundita post this afternoon, and which also quotes from B. Raman's informative analysis of the attack on the InterContinental.

And earlier today I posted a report from a New Zealand news site about the important role that New Zealand special forces played in securing the hotel. I found the report very interesting.

UPDATE 8:50 PM EDT
I'm not sure the reason cited in the Bloomberg report for the attack is the only one because reportedly there were high-value Afghan targets -- governors -- staying at the hotel ahead of the next day's conference. But here's the Bloomberg report, which contains details not mentioned in other reports I've included in the updates.

This will be my last update for the night.
Taliban Raid on Kabul Hotel Misses Targeted U.S. Diplomats

by Eltaf Najafizada in Kabul and Flavia Krause-Jackson in Washington
June 28, 2011, 7:45 PM EDT
Bloomberg wire service

Taliban gunmen and suicide bombers stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, seeking to find and kill visiting American and Pakistani diplomats.

No U.S. diplomats were caught in the attack, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in an e-mailed statement. The U.S. government had no immediate information about private American citizens, she said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack as he returned to Washington from an event in Iowa.

The attack began at 10 p.m. yesterday and gunfire continued at the darkened hotel five hours later, as Afghan army units clashed with the Taliban gunmen. Two NATO helicopters killed three gunmen on the roof, the Associated Press reported, citing coalition spokesman Jason Waggoner.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said four suicide bombers either blew themselves up or were killed in the fighting, according to the AP.

Zabihullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the Taliban movement, said a “big group” of Taliban gunmen killed or wounded 50 people, mostly foreigners, at the landmark hotel in the capital. The attack was timed for a meeting of U.S., Afghan and Pakistani officials with the intent of killing them, he said.

One bomber blew himself up at the start of the raid and a guard at the entrance of the hotel was killed, Mujahed said in a telephone interview. Once inside, the gunmen dispersed inside the hotel to seek foreigners on different floors, he 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 during the attack, Nuland said.

“The United States strongly condemns the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, which once again demonstrates the terrorists’ complete disregard for human life,” Nuland said.
UPDATE 6:45 PM EDT
Wolf Blitzer reports on CNN TV at around 6:33 PM EDT (3:33 PM Kabul time) on Reuters report that NATO helicopters have just fired on and killed 3 terrorists on the hotel roof.

> Foreign jornalist Erin Cunningham on Skype to Wolf Blitzer CNN 3:30 AM Kabul -- she told Wolf:
> Right now, helicopters arriving to shoot at terrorists on hotel roof. [These must be the NATO
> She is now back at her home but about 15 minutes before she first spoke with Wolf she recounted that she and another reporter were standing about 500 meters from the hotel (as close as police would allow onlookers) and they were nearly knocked off their feet by three large explosions; the police didn't know the source of the explosions.
> Barbara Starr CNN Pentagon reporter - 6:36 PM EDT:
ISAF spokesperson confirms just now that 2 NATO helicopters did fire on terrorists on roof, killing an estimated 3 of them.
> Hotel, located on a hilltop, is 9 miles from Kabul international airport, about 2 miles from city center. Hotel has 5 stories, 300 rooms.

From FNC live report around 6:00 PM EDT from their Pentagon reporter Jennifer Griffin:
> Unconfirmed reports that there have been hostages taken in the hotel
> All State dept. personnel accounted for but State can't say whether there are any Americans in the hotel.
> Kabul police and/or commandos did not intially request help from ISAF.
**************
In these updates I'm simply passing along entire reports from different news agencies because each report has different details. Still a fog of war situation at the hotel but I do have one question. An Afghan police official says in the CNN report that they've had no contact with people in the hotel because the phone lines are down. Blackberry, anyone?
Bombers attack luxury hotel in Kabul
By the CNN Wire Staff
June 28, 2011 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Fighters armed with bombs and small arms attacked Kabul's InterContinental Hotel, where they fought Tuesday with Afghan security forces, Chief of Criminal Investigation Mohammed Zahir told CNN.

Suicide bombers were among the attackers, he said.

Taliban bombers were responsible for the 10 p.m. attack on the hotel, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said.

The hotel is popular among international guests.

Initial reports indicate that multiple suicide bombers, mostly likely wearing explosive vests, carried out the attack, a U.S. military official told CNN. There were no indications that U.S. military or diplomatic personnel were at the hotel, the official said.

Police Chief Lt. Gen. Ayoub Salangi said Kabul police were on the grounds of the hotel, but had not been able to communicate with anyone inside, since the phone lines were down. He could not confirm any casualties.

A news conference had been scheduled to take place Wednesday in the hotel to discuss the planned transition of security from international to Afghan forces announced last week by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The hotel is on a hill on the outskirts of Kabul and is typically protected by heavy security. Three Taliban penetrated that security, and one of them detonated an explosion on the second floor, said Erin Cunningham, a journalist in Kabul for The National.

"We're continuing to hear small-arms fire right now," she told CNN from a vantage about 500 meters (a third of a mile) from the hotel. Several snipers were on the roof firing at Afghan security forces.

A few minutes beforehand, she said, rocket-propelled grenades were launched from the roof of the hotel toward the area of the first vice president's house. "Everyone is pretty nervous," she said. "A lot of people are fleeing the scene."

A few moments later, she said the hotel was rocked by three explosions, one of which knocked her off her feet. U.S. forces were on the scene, she said.

Members of the Afghan National Security Forces were on the scene, but the city police had the lead, International Security Assistance Force Maj. Jason Waggoner said in a statement.

He said ISAF forces were providing "some limited assistance."

Electricity around the hotel was shut off, said Jerome Starkey, a reporter for The Times.

The hotel was developed by the InterContinental Hotels Group and opened in 1969. But it has had no association with the group since the Soviet invasion in 1979, though it continues to use the name and logo without connection to the parent company.

The incident came on the same day that Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell announced that NATO and other members of the international community involved in Afghanistan have decided to increase the number of security forces in the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police to 352,000.

The current number of Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is about 300,000, the commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan and commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command told the Atlanta Press Club.

The increased number will be sufficient to give the Afghans security without coalition forces having to do it, he said.

CNN's Reza Sayah in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tom Watkins in Atlanta, Barbara Starr and Elise Labott in Washington and journalist Jonathan Boone [for the Guardian] in Kabul contributed to this story.
UPDATE 5:35 PM EDT
Kabul Bombing: Hotel Under Attack By Suicide Bombers in Afghanistan
By NICK SCHIFRIN (@nickschifrin) reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan
ABC News [USA]
June 28, 2011

In one of the most significant attacks in Afghanistan in the past few years, insurgents have hit a landmark Kabul hotel where Afghan officials had gathered for a conference with as many as 6 suicide bombers and gunmen, according to police.

At least one suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to the Intercontinental Hotel, and the attack is still ongoing. At least four explosions have been heard and gunfire continues. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack.

A police official says there are at least 3 attackers, but the number could be double that. An Afghan news agency is reporting that at least 10 people have died, but that figure has not been independently confirmed.

Afghan officials, including provincial governors, were staying at the Intercontinental because of a conference on transition that begins tomorrow. Afghan forces are scheduled to take charge of security in some areas of the country starting in July.

According to a State Dept. official, no American officials have been affected by the attack. It's not yet known if any other Americans have been killed or injured.

It's not known if there was a particular target staying at the hotel, which sits on a hill above the city, or if the target was the hotel itself. The attack occurred while guests were having dinner and power to the hotel and the entire surrounding neighborhood has now been cut. Police have cordoned off streets leading to the hotel. The U.S.-led international military force in Afghanistan says it has offered assistance to Afghan authorities.

The Intercontinental Hotel is the most famous hotel in Afghanistan and one of the icons of Kabul, where many Westerners and Afghan officials stay and hold meetings.
UPDATE 5:20 PM EDT

Afghanistan: Kabul's Intercontinental hotel attacked by Taliban militants
By Jon Boone in Kabul
The Guardian
Tuesday 28 June 2011 21.15 BST [British Summer Time 5 hours ahead of EDT]

Taliban militants with at least one suicide bomb attack popular Kabul hotel, with Afghan police reportedly locked in gun battles

A famous hotel in Kabul is under attack from a commando squad of Taliban militants armed with small arms, at least one suicide bomb and rocket propelled grenades.

The assault on the old Intercontinental, which is popular with Afghan politicians and foreign visitors, began late on Tuesday night when it is thought at least two receptions were taking place.

Although details about the ongoing assault are still unclear, a Taliban spokesman, contacted on the phone by journalists, was quick to claim credit for the assault.

A Kabul police chief, Mohammad Zahir, said the assault involved "several gunmen shooting", and that a "number" of police had been wounded.

According to a tweet by Bette Dam, a Dutch journalist at the scene, the attackers also appeared to be armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). Dam reported seeing at least four RPGs being launched from the hotel into the nearby house belonging to Mohammad Qasim Fahim, one of Afghanistan's vice-presidents.

Reuters reported that a wedding party was in progress at the 1960s hotel, which is no longer part of the Intercontinental chain, at the time of the assault.

The attack on such a well-defended hotel, which is impossible to approach without going through at least two security checkpoints, is embarrassing for the Afghan government as it prepares to take responsibility for security in Kabul province, as part of much-vaunted "transition" strategy. Afghan authorities have already been nominally in charge of the capital city for some time.

Attacks in Kabul have been relatively rare, although violence has increased since the 2 May killing of Osama bin Laden in a US raid in Pakistan, and since the start of the Taliban's annual spring offensive.

On 18 June, insurgents wearing Afghan army uniforms stormed a police station near the presidential palace and opened fire on officers, killing nine.
**********

This seems to be a 'swarm' attack, of the kind launched against two major hotels in the seige of Mumbai in 2008 that also had a large foreign clientele. A Taliban spokesman claims that the attackers are going by floor by floor and room by in the hotel. No time stamp on the New York Times report, which appeared on Google News about a half hour ago; in any case the situation was unresolved at the time the report was filed. I'll try to see what I can find by way of updates to the situation:
Group of Attackers Storms Hotel in Afghan Capital
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
Published: June 28, 2011
The New York Times

KABUL — Several attackers stormed the Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital, Kabul, Tuesday night, and witnesses said shooting and a loud explosion were heard as Afghan security forces rushed to the scene. Afghan security forces were still struggling to bring the situation under control, and the number of casualties was not immediately clear. But a Western security official said that early reports indicated that there were as many as six attackers — armed and believed to be wearing suicide vests — and that 10 people had been killed in the attack.

A police general, Mohammed Zahir, head of the Criminal Investigation Department, said at least three suicide bombers armed with light and heavy weapons had entered the Intercontinental Hotel.

“All the Afghan forces are near and around the hotel and the fighting is still going on and we are trying to kill them,” he said.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack saying they were targeting foreigners and Afghans, Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman for the north and east, said in a statement.

“Our muj entered the hotel,” he said, referring to Taliban 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.”

His claims could not be immediately confirmed.

The attack appeared to be in the style of previous assaults carried out by armed men in suicide vests in Afghanistan in recent years by the Taliban and its allies in the Haqqani network, a militant group based in Pakistan.

In October 2009 several suicide bombers and gunmen stormed a United Nations guest house in Kabul. By the end of the siege, at least five United Nations employees, two Afghan security officials and the brother-in-law of a prominent Afghan politician were dead, along with three attackers.

Similarly, in the summer of 2010 in the northern city of Kunduz six suicide bombers entered a guest house used by Development Alternatives Inc., a global development company under contract to the United States Agency for International Development. Four people were killed in that attack.

In January 2008 a suicide bombing at the Serena Hotel in Kabul killed at least six people.

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