Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Militants Storm Upscale Area in Kabul
By Tim Craig May 26 at 5:38 PM
Washington Post

KABUL — Heavily armed militants stormed an upscale Kabul neighborhood Tuesday night, resulting in a fierce gun battle and more than a dozen explosions.

Police said the attack was taking place in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, at the base of a large hill that overlooks central Kabul.

According to diplomatic officials, preliminary reports indicated that a small hotel used by foreigners was the intended target. But it was not immediately clear whether the attackers managed to get past hotel security. Several foreign embassies are also in that area.

The attack began about 11 p.m. local time and was ongoing three hours later. Residents across Kabul could hear continual gunfire and explosions. Some journalists nearby said they heard at least 20 explosions.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, but ambulances could be seen rushing to the scene. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy said all personnel had been accounted for and were safe.

If the hotel was the intended target, it would mark the second major assault on a Kabul hotel in less than two weeks.

On May 13, a gunman opened fire inside the Park Palace Hotel in central Kabul, killing 14 guests. The dead included 10 foreigners, including one American. The Taliban took credit for the attack.

For much of the 13-year war, Kabul was relatively immune to violence. But insurgents have been escalating their attacks on foreigners who live and work in the capital. In January 2014, several gunmen stormed a popular Lebanese restaurant, killing 21 people, mostly foreigners. Three months later, four Taliban gunmen entered Kabul’s only four-star hotel, the Serena, and killed nine people, including four foreigners.

Several smaller hotels — referred to locally as guesthouses — have also been attacked over the past two years.

The attack Tuesday night comes as Afghan security forces have struggled to respond to bloody attacks in nearly every corner of the country.

On Monday, insurgents stormed a police station in southern Kandahar province, killing 19 police officers and seven soldiers, the Associated Press reported. Also Monday, at least four people were killed and more than 60 others wounded when a suicide bomber detonated near a market in Zabul province in southeastern Afghanistan. And earlier on Tuesday, four suicide bombers attacked a provincial court building in Wardak province, killing two police officers.

The Afghan army is also engaged in fierce battles with Taliban militants in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan and Uruzgan province in the central part of the country.

Adding to the instability, clashes are also erupting between Taliban fighters and militants loyal to the Islamic State, which is trying to gain a foothold in Afghanistan. The two groups have been fighting for control of some rural districts that have historically lacked the writ of the government.

Mohammad Sharif contributed to this report.

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