A team of several jihadists assaulted the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan yesterday. Afghan security forces finally ended the siege earlier today, after more than 12 hours.
Initial casualty reports, including those issued by the Afghan government, said that several people were killed. However, subsequent accounts indicate that the casualty toll is much higher. It is not clear how many people perished, but the latest estimates indicate that more than one dozen people, and perhaps many more, died as a result. Dozens of others were evacuated from the hotel and brought to nearby hospitals for treatment.
The Taliban quickly claimed credited for the killings on social media.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid* claimed that “[t]ens of foreign & hireling” enemies were killed during the “martyr attack on Intercontinental Hotel.” The assault, which targeted an “enemy meeting,” was “carried out by 5 martyrdom seekers armed with heavy/light weapons” who entered the hotel and killed “foreign nationals.” The Taliban claims that the siege lasted 14 hours, which is generally consistent with other accounts.
Mujahid also released a statement saying that the assault had been planned for an earlier date, but “wedding ceremonies” caused the Taliban to delay the operation. The Taliban is concerned with how its terrorism in Kabul and elsewhere is perceived. The group doesn’t want its violence to be viewed as indiscriminate, even though civilians are often killed in its operations, including at the Intercontinental Hotel.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) released a statement saying that the assault was carried out by four terrorists dispatched by the Haqqani Network, which “organized” the operation. The MOI also noted that the Haqqanis’ “safe havens are outside of Afghanistan,” meaning Pakistan.
Although Afghan and American officials often discuss the Haqqani Network as if it is separate from the Taliban, the Haqqanis are, in fact, an integral part of the Taliban’s operation. Siraj Haqqani, who leads the enterprise founded by his father, is the Taliban’s top deputy leader. Siraj is also allied with al Qaeda. In Dec. 2016, the Taliban released a video celebrating its historical relationship with al Qaeda. The video, which is still being promoted on Taliban social media more than one year after it was released, contained messages from Siraj and al Qaeda ideologues.
The Afghan capital is regularly struck by terrorists more than 16 years into the war. As of mid-2017, civilian casualties were at, or near, all-time highs in the conflict, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Kabul city and the surrounding areas have been hit especially hard by “suicide and complex attacks.”
On May 31, 2017, a suicide bomber detonated a massive truck bomb in Kabul. Although the Taliban has repeatedly denied its culpability, likely due to the number of civilians killed, Afghan and American officials say the Haqqani Network carried it out. UNAMA has described the May 31 bombing as the “deadliest incident” it has documented “since 2001.”
Jihadists have continued to terrorize Kabul in more recent months. Both the Islamic State’s Khorasan “province” and the Taliban have claimed responsibility for operations.
In December, the Islamic State branch said its men were responsible for an assault on the Tabayan cultural center in Kabul. The so-called caliphate’s loyalists attempted to justify the attack by pointing to its role in recruiting Shiite Afghan fighters for the war in Syria.
On some occasions, there is confusion concerning the identities of the jihadists responsible for operations inside Kabul.
On Jan. 18, just two days before the assault on the Intercontinental Hotel, the US Embassy in Kabul warned “that extremist groups may be planning an attack against hotels in Kabul.” The Embassy named another location, the “Hotel Baron near Hamid Karzai International Airport,” as a potential target. “These groups may also be targeting public gatherings/demonstrations, government facilities, transportation, markets, and places where foreigners are known to congregate.”
It is a warning that could be issued any day of the year, given the persistent terrorist threat to civilians in Kabul.
*Zabihullah Mujahid may be an identity assumed by more than one jihadist acting as a spokesman for the group.