Yesterday in Kabul, five gunmen wearing army uniforms burst into the Intercontinental Hotel and attacked guests in the building. Witnesses who survived the terrorist attack described “guests being sprayed with bullets as they ran” amidst parts of the hotel engulfed in flames. Survivors also commented on how the hotel security team fled the scene “without a fight,” leaving unarmed visitors vulnerable to the gunmen. Some guests were spotted attempting their escape by using bed sheets to climb down from balconies. The attackers, allegedly members of the Taliban, battled the Afghan Special Forces overnight in a 14-hour siege. When Afghan and western security forces were finally able to regain control of the building, sources quote a death toll of at least 18 people: four Afghans and 14 foreigners. According to Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danesh, all five attackers were also killed.
As a state-owned luxury hotel, the Intercontinental was due to host an information technology conference on Sunday, the day after the attack. A report by the Telecommunications Ministry states that over 100 managers and engineers were at the hotel when the attack took place. A local airline, Kam Air, claimed that it was still trying to locate around 40 staff comprised of both pilots and air crew who were on site at the time of attack. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, and quoted that the group had “killed tens of foreign invaders and their puppets.” Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry blamed an affiliate of the Taliban known as the Haqqani network, which carried out a previous attack on the same hotel seven years ago.
Constantly at battle, yesterday’s raid is the latest in a long series of attacks carried by militant groups aiming to undermine confidence in Afghanistan’s Western-backed government. The series of attacks shed light on the city’s vulnerability despite the security measures implemented by Afghanistan’s security forces. Large areas of the city of Kabul are enclosed in high concrete blast walls, and surrounded by multiple police checkpoints. Yet, despite these security enforcements, the assailants were able to smuggle weapons into the hotel and sustain control over the building for a 14 hour period. Afghan officials should investigate such loopholes and deficiencies of the security forces to further strengthen protection of the city. Although U.S. and Afghan officials claim increased U.S. assistance has put the Taliban under strain, examples like yesterday’s attack only reinforce how precarious national security is for Afghanistan in the status quo.
It was only last May when a truck bomber killed at least 150 people and injured around 400 others outside the German embassy in Kabul. On December 28, another suicide bomber targeted a Shia cultural center, claiming the deaths of more than 40 people. Despite tightened security after these attacks, yesterday’s assault demonstrates how difficult it remains to stop militant groups terrorizing parts of the country. In a statement, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani ordered an investigation into the terrorist attack and their support base. He also blamed neighbouring countries for helping these groups, stating “as long as the terrorist groups have secure protection and safe haven, the region will not find security, stability”. Putting aside all political or religious motives, it should be accepted fact that there should be no place for such violence and terror anywhere. There must be a united condemnation on an intentional act of violence.