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18 dead as Taliban storm Afghan hotel

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Heavily armed Taliban insurgents stormed into a lakeside hotel north of Kabul and opened fire on guests inside, killing 18 people — most civilians — before the 12-hour long rampage ended Friday morning, Afghan officials said.

The brazen attack on a resort where many Afghans go to try to forget about the war was a dramatic reminder of the Taliban's resiliency as insurgents push hard with their summer offensive in a show of strength as U.S.-led forces prepared to withdraw by the end of 2014.

Insurgents first killed the security guards at the hotel, then pushed their way inside and began firing at guests who were having a late-night meal. Some of the guests escaped while others were held hostage as the attackers battled Afghan security forces who rushed to the scene for the next 12 hours.

Kabul police said five attackers had been shot and killed by midday Friday, ending the standoff. The Taliban claimed only four of their fighters were involved in the attack on the Spozhmai hotel at Qargha Lake, a popular weekend retreat about a half-hour drive from the capital.

U.S. Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the attack was likely carried out by fighters loyal to the Haqqani network. The al-Qaida linked group is based in Pakistan and regularly targets Afghan and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and conducts deadly attacks in Kabul.

“This attack bears the signature of the Haqqani network, which continues to target and kill innocent Afghans and blatantly violate Afghan sovereignty from the safety of Pakistan,” Allen said, adding that some victims were killed in their sleep.

He added that the coalition provided “minimal support” at the Afghans' request.

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Black Hawk helicopters fly near the Spozhmai Hotel at Qargha Lake in the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, June 22. Taliban militants armed with guns and rockets attacked a lakeside hotel near Kabul overnight, seizing dozens of hostages including women and children and killing four people. (AFP)

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