In progress as I write this. Sounds … Mumbai-esque.
A group of suicide bombers attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul Tuesday, and fighting was ongoing with Afghan security forces, Chief of Criminal Investigation Mohammed Zahir told CNN.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said a group of Taliban bombers was responsible for the 10 p.m. attack on the hotel, which is popular among international guests. There were no immediate details on casualties.
The hotel is located on a hill on the outskirts of Kabul and is typically protected by heavy security. A news conference was scheduled to take place Wednesday in the hotel to discuss the planned transition of security from international to Afghan forces.
The hotel’s power has reportedly been cut, presumably by the bombers. Why they’d bother doing that if this is a simple suicide-bomb mission, I’m not sure. Alternate theory: Like Mumbai, this is not a simple suicide-bomb mission.
Associated Press reporters at the scene heard bursts of gunfire and saw shooting from the roof of the five-story Inter-Continental hotel that sits on a hill overlooking the city. Police ordered bystanders to lay on the ground for safety. There was no immediate word on casualties in the rare, nighttime attack in the Afghan capital.
A guest who was inside also said he heard gunfire echoing throughout the building. Streets leading to the hotel were blocked and the electricity was out…
Azizullah, an Afghan police officer who uses only one name, told an Associated Press reporter at the scene that at least one bomber entered the hotel and detonated a vest of explosives. Another police officer, who would not disclose his name, said there were at least two suicide bombers.
The Times says there could be as many as six suicide bombers on the scene, and reportedly at least three are carrying light and heavy weapons. According to a Taliban spokesman, who took credit for the attack on behalf of the group, the attackers “are breaking into each room and they are targeting the 300 Afghans and foreigners who are staying.” Systematic murder, in other words, not indiscriminate explosions; presumably, they’re wearing vests in case they’re cornered by U.S. and Afghan troops and want to take a few with them at the moment of truth.
Why target the hotel? Multiple possible reasons. One: As noted by CNN, there’s a presser scheduled there tomorrow to announce a handover of security duties from NATO to the Afghan army. Preempting that by running wild in the hotel carries symbolic value. Two: It’s a soft target in Kabul, Karzai’s stronghold, not a military outpost in some far-flung eastern or southern province. That’s a message to NATO commanders that the battlefield this year might be a lot bigger than they think. And three, obviously: They want to capitalize on Obama’s withdrawal announcement to show that not only haven’t they been defeated, they’re still strong enough to wreak havoc right under NATO’s nose in a supposedly heavily guarded tourist spot. Just as I’m writing this, NBC’s claiming that three attackers have blown themselves up; no word on where the other three are or how many people in the hotel are dead. Stand by for updates.
Update: If the Taliban’s eager to keep up the pressure on Obama to withdraw, they’re better off targeting U.S. troops than soft targets full of civilians like hotels. The higher American combat deaths are, the more inclined the U.S. public will be to say “to hell with this” and support an accelerated drawdown. Conversely, the higher civilian deaths are, the less inclined they’ll be to support it, I suspect. Americans want their guys out of harm’s way after 10 years but they don’t want to abandon the locals, especially local women, to the nightmare of a new Taliban regime. Maybe the Taliban’s been sufficiently weakened by the surge that they simply can’t mount major attacks on military outposts right now and have to concentrate on soft targets of necessity, but that’s foolish insofar as it bolsters the case for drawing down more slowly. But then, who knows how well these cretins understand U.S. public opinion? If they’d given up Bin Laden when we demanded it after 9/11, they’d probably still be in power now.
Update: ABC claims that Afghan officials, including provincial governors, had already arrived at the hotel today in anticipation of tomorrow’s presser, which may explain the timing of the attack. More from Bill Roggio on who the attackers are:
Today’s suicide attack was likely carried out by the Kabul Attack Network, which is made up of fighters from the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, and cooperates with terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaeda. Top Afghan intelligence officials have linked the Kabul Attack Network to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate as well. The network’s tentacles extend outward from Kabul into the surrounding provinces of Logar, Wardak, Nangarhar, Kapisa, Ghazni, and Zabul, a US intelligence official have told The Long War Journal.