Reports have now confirmed the death toll from Saturday night’s attack on a Kabul hotel, a location that has been a known hotspot for foreigners in the Afghan capital for years.
Local media now report 22 dead from an assault on the Kabul Intercontinental.
According to accounts, gunmen entered the hotel on Saturday evening dressed in Afghan army fatigues at around 21:00 local time, as the hotel was serving guests dinner. There were clear indications that the attackers were after the Intercontinental’s foreigners. Attackers were heard shouting "Where are the foreigners?" and “Don't leave any of them alive, good or bad. Shoot and kill them all." Among the victims were a broad spectrum of internationals, including Greeks, Germans, Ukrainians, as well as two other foreigners that have yet to be identified.
The remaining 160 people present in the hotel were rescued by Afghan troops who fought through the night to regain control of the hotel. Three of the attackers were killed in the ensuing shootout. Ten people, including four civilians, were injured.
On a positive note, the incident did demonstrate the capability of Afghan security forces to deal with a high scale Taliban attack. The absence of these security forces stationed at the hotel may have actually contributed to the assault. Commenting on the incident, the Afghan interior minister said the recent decision to transfer security to a private company had been a mistake.
The recent terror attack at the Intercontinental highlights the increased threat to foreign nationals in Afghanistan since Trump’s Afghanistan plan got off the ground last August. The international hotspots in Kabul specifically have been targets for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and ISIS militants over the 17-year long conflict. Attacks specifically targeting foreign visitors, despite having less strategic value, deliver a sense of disorder and lack of control on the part of the coalition. Take the attacks on the Kabul Serena hotel, for instance. The Serena has been hit several times, notably in 2008 and again in 2014 with shootings and suicide bombings. The Intercontinental itself was the target of an attack once before in 2011. These attacks have no strategic value from a purely military point of view.
Of course, in these types of attacks strategic military targets are not the goal of militant groups.
Groups like the Taliban are trying to send a very simple message, namely that there is no hope of instilling complete order in the country by force. The best way to communicate this is by honing in on foreign visitor targets.
Zooming out, it is comforting to see how incidents like the bloodshed at the Intercontinental are not shaking the resolve of the US administration. Trump’s plan outlined goals that were both specific, and more importantly, innovative, setting strategic objectives that have not yet been seen in Afghanistan. These included more hands-on guidance for Afghan regulars by US personnel, an effort that shockingly has not yet been implemented. Recent reports have indicated that the US will likely send an additional installment of 1,000 troops to Afghanistan in order to provide manpower to a new unit dubbed the Security Force Assistance Brigade. This is the unit that will carry out the in-field advising that American defense officials have spoken of. While the Taliban have shown in this attack that they mean ruthless business, America’s new tough stance strategy is also unwaveringly moving forward.