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Attack in Kabul targets foreigners in a central hotel, killing and wounding many

May 14, 2015

Summary: An attack in Kabul against a hotel targeting foreigners kills 9.  The Taliban claim it.

Many reports this morning about a terrorist attacker by two gunmen into a hotel – the Palace Park Hotel – in Kabul.  The attack took place in an area of the city where many UN staff live.  It was five hours before the Afghan security forces were able to declare the area safe.  Information is still a little unclear regarding number of attackers and casualties.  Reportedly between five to eleven were killed (the UN say 14 civilians), including one American and one Italian citizen, and a similar amount wounded.

This attack follows a well-established Taliban pattern of attacks into the city to kill Westerners, although the attackers appear to have been more “suicidal” than “suicide” attackers – not bombs strapped to bodies, just small arms and grenades.  The five-hour timeframe highlights the difficulties of securing and clearing buildings in an urban area while ensuring the safety of dozens, if not hundreds of civilians.  Buildings and rooms have to be carefully checked as the final number of assailants is rarely certain until near the end of the incident.

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Palace Park Hotel marked with a black pin – soft target outside the ring of steel?

I am not yet clear that the attack was due to the Taliban, although some media carry claims of responsibility from the Taliban and I would judge it highly likely that they were behind it, given their modus operandi, their ability to reach into the city and their extensive track record of similar attacks.  Kabul will remain a target of choice for insurgents – it secures maximum media publicity even as the world’s media are drifting away to other more pressing war zones and stories.

The Afghan security forces get a lot of criticism, most of it justified.  The forces based in Kabul, however, are getting regular experience in dealing with these incidents and do not seem to be doing too badly in particularly difficult combat environments.  If you study photographs from recent Kabul incidents, you rarely see Western troops alongside the Afghan forces these days.

The target location is to the west of the main concentrations of government, embassy and military buildings – the Wazir Akhbar Khan district.  This could suggest some difficulty for the insurgents in penetrating the security cordons in this area.  Softer targets hitting weaponless foreigners beyond the “Green Zone” may become the preferred option.

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