The details of the Taliban's nearly six-hour attack on Kabul's six-story luxury Intercontinental Hotel are beginning to come into focus and they make for a gripping tale. For starters, it's now clear that this wasn't some spontaneous operation. Taliban commander Qari Talha tells The Daily Beast that the group had spent the past week planning the attack and that Taliban officials kept in touch with the assailants from an "operations room" in Kabul as the raid unfolded. He suggested that the Taliban had "sympathizers" in the hotel who fed the group information about the building's layout and vulnerabilities, and added that "one or two" insurgents actually stayed in a hotel room as guests for three days and smuggled weapons into the facility before meeting the other assailants on Tuesday night. While the Taliban is claiming responsibility, Fox News and ABC's Nick Schifrin are reporting that the Taliban-affiliated, Pakistani-based Haqqani network is in fact behind the attack
How did the raid go down? Several reports explain that at around 10 p.m. in Afghanistan, on the eve of a conference in the capital about transitioning security to the Afghan government, eight or nine militants armed with explosive vests, automatic rifles, anti-aircraft weapons, and grenade launchers managed to get past checkpoints, police guards, intelligence officers, and metal detectors at the hotel, where around 70 guests--including provincial governors in town for the conference--were staying (Afghan officials are still investigating how the insurgents infiltrated the building, saying only that they believe there was a "loophole in security"). Some of the attackers "carried tape recorders playing Taliban war songs and shot at anyone they saw," according to Reuters. They "used different floors of the hotel as positions for shooting guests who were in the garden," according to the Times, and even fired rocket-propelled grenades at the house of Afghan Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim, according to journalist Bette Dam.
How did the people staying at the hotel react? Guests at a wedding reception and diners in the restaurant and at a poolside barbecue scampered down the "pine-tree studded hill" where the hotel sits, The Daily Beast writes. As bullets flew and explosions erupted, many guests locked themselves in their rooms while others, according to Reuters and The New York Times, jumped from second- and third-floor windows or hid in ditches. When one visitor started talking to a man in an Afghan police uniform with a white hat used by religious Afghans, actual Afghan police officers urged the visitor to move away, warning that the man was a "bomber," according to the Times. One U.S. citizen staying at the hotel for a doctorate project tells CNN that while lying on the floor of his darkened hotel room for five hours, "None of us thought we were going to make it. I wrote my little will--just in case."
Afghan police (pictured above) were the first on the scene, followed a few hours later by an Afghan National Army commando unit. An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flew over the hotel, according to CNN, providing footage of the militants. A firefight, captured below by Getty, raged for hours:
The standoff began winding down at dawn when two U.S. helicopter gunships fired machine guns at three insurgents on the hotel's roof, "causing the insurgents' explosive-laden vests to explode in balls of fire," according to The Daily Beast. As the helicopters hovered overhead, Afghan security forces engaged the insurgents as they worked their way up to the roof floor by floor. But the attack didn't end there. A few hours later, the AP adds, a bomber hiding in a room blew himself up "long after ambulances had carried the dead and wounded from the hotel." In the end, according to Afghanistan's Interior Ministry, the insurgents--six of whom blew themselves up--killed three Afghan policemen, eleven Afghan civilians (including a judge from an unnamed province and hotel staff), and a Spaniard, who Spain's foreign ministry has identified as a civil aviation pilot. This TOLO News video shows raw footage of the attack and the hotel in flames:
As for the the larger meaning of the attack? The Daily Beast writes that while the Taliban hasn't been able to recapture any of the strategic areas it lost to the U.S. "surge" since announcing its "spring offensive" it "has been able to conduct a number of headline-grabbing attacks inside cities such as the assault on the Inter-Continental." These types of attacks--especially on a power center like the Intercontinental--"do hit Afghan psyches," The Daily Beast adds, "and do raise again the paramount question in most people's minds as U.S. and coalition forces prepare to gradually withdraw over the next three years: Can Afghan security forces protect us?"