By Mirwais Harooni and Samar Zwak
(Reuters) – Elite Afghan police backed by NATO forces ended a 12-hour siege on Friday at a popular hotel outside Kabul, leaving at least 20 dead after Taliban gunmen stormed the lakeside building, bursting into a party and seizing dozens of hostages.
The night-time assault on the hotel with rocket-propelled grenades, suicide vests and machine guns again proved how potent the Islamist insurgency remains after a decade of war.
Terrified guests jumped into the lake in the darkness to escape the carnage, Afghan officials and residents said. Up to 300 people had been inside the hotel when the attack began.
Afghan interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said 12 to 15 civilians, two hotel guards and a policeman were killed in the gunbattle at the Spozhmai hotel, overlooking Qargha Lake. Five attackers were also killed.
The attack, quickly claimed by the Afghan Taliban, again showed the ability of insurgents to stage high-profile raids even as NATO nations prepare to withdraw most of their combat troops by the end of 2014 and leave Afghans to lead the fight.
Blood was splattered over the hotel floor and the crumpled body of a man lay in the garden. Women and children were among the wounded.
“We heard a heavy explosion from a rocket-propelled grenade. We tried to escape, but we were surrounded by suicide bombers. We hid ourselves behind a tree until morning. God protected us,” said Abdullah Samadi, 24.
The gunmen, Samadi said, had been closely watching their prisoners and searching for illegal stocks of wine.
“Around dawn they came closer to us and we had to jump in the water. We were there until 9 a.m. and then the situation got better and we slowly, slowly swam toward security forces,” he said.
Sediqqi said the Taliban were using civilians as human shields to defend themselves and held about 50 people hostage late into Friday morning.
Elite Afghan quick-response police backed by NATO troops freed at least 35 hostages in an operation that only began in earnest after sunrise to help security forces avoid civilian deaths in night-time confusion.
The Taliban complained wealthy Afghans and foreigners used the hotel, about 10 km (6 miles) from the center of Kabul, for “prostitution” and “wild parties” ahead of the Friday religious day holiday.
Launching their annual offensive this spring, the Taliban threatened to attack more government officials and rich Afghans, but the hotel assault was one of few in which multiple hostages were taken since the start of the war, now in its 11th year.
To read more, visit:Â http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/22/us-afghanistan-hotel-idUSBRE85K1S920120622
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