NATO-Afghan raid ends hotel assault; 19 dead

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Kabul, Jun 29: NATO helicopters fired rockets before dawn today at Taliban gunmen who stormed one of Afghanistan''s premier hotels, ending a brazen, nearly five-hour assault that left 19 people dead including all eight attackers.

The strike against the Inter-Continental was one of the biggest and most complex to have occurred within Kabul and appeared designed to show that the insurgents are capable of striking even in the centre of power at a time when US officials are speaking of progress in the nearly 10-year war.

It occurred less than a week after President Barack Obama announced the beginning of an American withdrawal and the transfer of security responsibility to the Afghans in several areas, including most of Kabul province.

Militants who had managed to penetrate the hotel''s security measures began the attack around 10 pm Tuesday, on the eve of a conference about the transfer of security responsibilities.

After hours of fighting, two NATO helicopters opened fire at about 3 am on the roof of the five-story hotel where militants had taken up positions.

US Army Maj Jason Waggoner, a spokesman for the US-led coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said the helicopters killed three gunmen and Afghan security forces clearing the hotel worked their way up to the roof and engaged the insurgents.

A final explosion occurred a few hours later when one of the bombers who had been hiding in a room blew himself up long after ambulances had carried the dead and wounded.

Latifullah Mashal, the spokesman of the Afghan National Directorate for Security, said eight suicide attackers were involved and all had either blown themselves up or been killed by Afghan or coalition forces.

PTI

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