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In Kabul, Shades Of Mumbai Attack

Posted by Newshoggers.com on June 28th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

There's been a massive terror attack in Kabul, and a massive response by security forces.

Four suicide bombers and four gunmen attacked a Western-style hotel in Kabul late on Tuesday night and police who went to the scene fought the assailants with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, Afghan officials said. Some Afghan provincial governors were staying at the hotel.

Samoonyar Mohammad Zaman, a security officer for the Ministry of Interior, said officials believe there are still four gunmen in the Inter-Continental hotel, which sits on a hill overlooking the capital.

"They may be on the roof. We're seeing gunfire going back and forth. Some of that is Afghan police firing from hilltops onto the roof," he said. "I saw the bodies of two suicide bombers at the main entrance of the hotel."

The Afghan Taliban have already issued a statement taking responsibility.

Zabihullah Mujahed, a spokesman for the Taliban guerrilla movement, said a “big group” of Taliban gunmen killed or wounded 50 people, mostly foreigners, after storming the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, where a meeting that included American officials had been taking place.

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

…Mujahed said the attack was timed for a meeting involving U.S., Afghan and Pakistani officials, with the intent of killing them.

According to the Afghan government, all the attackers are now dead but they have no idea how many are casualties. The Inter-Continental is heavily used by foreigners in Kabul, including journalists and aid workers – several of whom bravely kept up tweeting throughout.

UK newspapers are already making comparisons to the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India. Such a well co-ordinated attack is a new departure for the Taliban in Afghanistan but had been promised by their leadership even before the announced U.S. withdrawal. Still as Josh Mull notes, expect critics of the withdrawal plan to use this attack to make the case for halting it.

However in the aftermath the main criticism may focus on the over-zealous security forces' response, very much in contrast to the careful Indian commando response in Mumbai that was criticized at the time for not being zealous enough. There were reports of RPGs used by Afghan police inside the hotel and of helicopters opening fire – presumably U.S. ones – and firing at least two missiles at the roof. The entire roof of the hotel is now ablaze, as are the north and east sides of the building. As former Army officer Jason Fitz notes, clearing terrorists from a building full of civilians is what ground forces are supposed to do, not a job for missiles and attack helicopters.

More from CNN and the NYT has a fast report on those tweeting from the area during the attack.

 Transcript of interview with on-the-spot reporter Bette Dam. (via @al_habieli)

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