Intercontinental Hotel Attack: The Untold Story

2011/07/10 • Comments

Flames ensue after insurgents attack Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel)

By Hila Hanif
NTM-A Commander’s Action Group

 
KABUL — Nine suicide bombers staged an attack on the Intercontinental Hotel here, June 28, killing an estimated 11 people before they either blew themselves up or were killed by Afghan and Coalition Forces.  

Major news publications such as TIME and The Guardian were quick to depict the ANSF response to the attack as incompetent and inadequate, saying that it was “embarrassing to the Afghan government” and providing a narrative that implied that coalition forces were the ones to quell the attack.  They failed, however, to pick up on a number of facts that strongly prove otherwise.

Being based at NTM-A headquarters in Kabul, I had the opportunity to get details of the operation directly from those who were involved.  I sat down with Ministry of Interior’s General Director of Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Fazli, who was at the scene of the attack moments after it started, to get his take of the events that transpired that night.

Shortly after the attack started at 9:50 p.m. on the 28th, Afghan security forces rushed to the scene, cordoning off the streets leading to the hotel.  What was rare about the response was that in addition to the Police Crisis Response and Army Commando Units called in, several high-ranking officials from the Afghan government, including Minister of Interior Mohammadi, MOI General Director for Intelligence Fazli, ANP 101st Zone Commander Salangi, and other representatives of Afghanistan’s various security institutions, ignored the dangers of the ongoing attack and raced to the hotel in order to be fully engaged with the response.  Col. Kemp Chester, who serves an NTM-A advisor, helped me understand how risky this was.  In addition to the crossfire between insurgents and ANSF, the convergence of multiple response units added a layer of complexity to the operation.

Despite the news reports’ description of Intercontinental’s “heavily defended” security checkpoints, those checkpoints were primarily at the front side of the hotel and did not preclude the chance of attackers breaking into the hotel from other sides, as was likely the case on this night.  One news report quoted an eyewitness claiming he saw police drop their weapons and run when the attack started—an indication that they are not ready to take lead of the country’s security.  Although locally-employed security personnel were present during the initial attack on the hotel, these personnel are not Afghan National Security Forces, who were called in to respond.  ANP Crisis Response units and ANA Commando units, both of whom have received specialized training for operations, represent the high-quality law-enforcement and counter-terrorism units that Coalition forces are helping recruit, train, and assign.  Fazli described the scene, “I swear, police personnel [who were part of backup units] were pleading with the Minister to send them in.”  

Afghan leadership made a quick decision to cut off the hotel’s electricity in order to impair the insurgents’ capabilities to target guests.  Afghan Commandos with night vision capabilities were called in to help force attackers up to the roof of the hotel, where one insurgent, in an act of desperation, blew himself up and others were shot down.  As headlines have highlighted, a NATO helicopter did come in to support the operation, as the fledgling Afghan Air Force is still in the process of building its air capabilities with assistance from NTM-A, and are not yet fully capable of conducting night operations. 

Minister of Interior Mohammadi addresses Afghan National Security Forces and thanks them on behalf of President Karzai for their courageous actions in defeating the terrorist attack at the Intercontinental Hotel

Fazli noted that insurgents have plotted many other attacks in Kabul and around the country, but through strong cooperation between Afghan and coalition intelligence units, they have managed to thwart the overwhelming majority of planned attacks.  In this instance, although the attackers’ stated intent was to target foreign and high-profile Afghan guests, the majority of those killed were honorable members of the hotel’s security staff and Afghan National Police.    

The media coverage of this event is part of a trend of news that discounts not only the increased capabilities of the ANSF, but undermines the bravery and dedication of those who are working to secure their country.  Insurgents will continue to try and stage attacks around Afghanistan, including in the capital, but this is not evidence that Afghan security forces are incapable; rather, it is evidence that they are needed.  If the scene was nearly as terrifying as pictures depict, I can’t imagine that the forces, Afghan and Coalition, who risked their lives that night did not know what they were getting themselves into. In response to these heroic actions, the Afghan government recognized the achievement of its forces and awarded the Afghan Medal of Honor to a member of the Crisis Response Unit for his leadership during the attack.  General Petraeus also publicly recognized the actions of these Afghans and contrasted this attack to the Mumbai attacks of 2008, in which 10 gunmen were responsible for killing 164 people in an attack that took several days to end.  I hope that international media will start to recognize the progress that has truly been made in this country.



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