Shades of Mumbai?  The Taliban attacked a resort hotel in Kabul late yesterday, killing 18 people and holding dozens more hostage while holding off Afghanistan security forces.  By daylight, however, combined Afghan and ISAT forces rescued the hostages and killed all five Taliban terrorists:

Fourteen Afghan civilians, three security guards and an Afghan police officer died in the attack, said Mohammad Zahir, criminal director for Kabul police.

“The attackers entered the hotel and suddenly opened fire on families having a late dinner,” Zahir said. “The hotel was crowded. Some of the guests jumped from the window into the hotel yard. They were hiding under trees or any safe place they could find.

“Three of the guests jumped into the lake and hid in the water,’ ‘ he added.

Kabul Police Chief Mohammad Ayub Salangi said the five attackers — armed with machines guns, rocket-propelled grenades and vests laden with explosives — stormed the Spozhmai hotel at Qargha Lake before midnight on Thursday. By midmorning Friday, militants were still fighting Afghan forces, supported by international troops. Gunfire pierced the quiet surroundings of the lake area. Black smoke was rising from the two-story hotel in a wooded area on the bank of the lake. NATO helicopters circled overhead.

Supposedly this resort got targeted for “un-Islamic activity” and because the Taliban thought they could find Western diplomats there, but the Kabul police dispute both points:

“The Taliban propaganda is saying that there was immoral activity there and that people were drinking alcohol,” said Zahir, the criminal director for the Kabul police. “That is totally wrong. These are people who had worked all week and had gone to the lake to have a restful dinner with their families. The view there is very good for relaxation. There is no alcohol.”

The timing of this can’t be worse for NATO and Hamid Karzai — and perhaps even worse for the Taliban.  At the moment, they are trying to find ways to bring the war to an end and have the Taliban engage politically rather than militarily, which given the large Pashtun presence in the country was always going to be the end game anyway.  However, the Taliban just gave Afghans a reminder of what life was like when they ran the country with their murderous and brutal theocracy, and gave Karzai and the West a taste of what will happen if they return.

On the bright side, the Afghan security forces appear to have done a good job in bringing this to a relatively swift end.  They had help from ISAT, true, but from this report it looks like they did most of the work and limited the carnage as much as they possibly could under the circumstances.  That’s an encouraging sign, but perhaps not enough to counter the obvious threat from the Taliban in a one-on-one fight.