KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An all-night siege in an upscale neighborhood of Afghanistan's capital ended in the early hours of Wednesday morning with the deaths of four heavily armed Taliban attackers, though no civilians or security personnel were injured or killed, an Afghan official said.
Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Ayub Salangi said that weapons had been seized, including a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, three automatic rifles and a hand grenade.
Using his official Twitter account, Salangi said there were "no civilian or military casualties."
Kabul's police chief Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahimi, speaking to reporters outside the guesthouse that was the target of the six-hour assault, said: "Before reaching their target all four attackers were killed."
The siege ended after 5 a.m. in a sustained barrage of automatic weapons fire and a series of huge explosions that resounded across the Wazir Akbar Khan district of downtown Kabul, home to many embassies and foreign firms.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in tweets on a recognized Twitter account. They referred to the target as "belonging to the occupiers," reiterating the insurgents' message that foreign installations are specific targets in the Afghan capital.
The attack came amid intensified fighting across many parts of Afghanistan since the insurgents launched their annual warm weather offensive a month ago. A Taliban attack on a guesthouse in another part of the capital earlier this month left 14 people dead, including nine foreigners.
The United Nations already has documented a record high number of civilian casualties — 974 killed and 1,963 injured — in the first four months of 2015, a 16 percent increase over the same period last year.
The siege began late Tuesday, with heavy explosions accompanying sporadic automatic rifle fire, and was focused on the Rabbani Guesthouse, which is favored by foreigners as the area is in the heart of the diplomatic district and close to the airport.
The attackers apparently attempted to enter the hotel by firing a rocket propelled grenade at its heavy steel front gate. Part of the gate is burned, but it was not damaged enough to allow the militants entry. The hours of shooting seem to have marked a showdown as the militants sought cover and police waited for daylight to identify and move in on their targets.
Police and a paramilitary Crisis Response Unit surrounded the area, blocked roads, took up positions on rooftops and parked armored personnel vehicles in the streets around the guesthouse. Police officers smashed lights throughout the neighborhood to cover their movements.
For about five hours, gunfire and explosions were sporadic, before a lull lasting more than an hour ended with a dawn volley of sustained gunfire and huge explosions that sent clouds of black smoke into the sky. After an intense firefight, calm returned to the area.
The hotel has been attacked before. Formerly known as the Heetal Hotel, it was damaged in a December 2009 suicide car bomb attack near the home of former Afghan Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud — brother of legendary anti-Taliban fighter Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed in an al-Qaida suicide bombing two days before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. That 2009 attack killed eight people and wounded nearly 40.
The hotel is owned by the Rabbani family, who include the late Burhanuddin Rabbani who served as president of Afghanistan from 1992 until 1996 and was assassinated in Kabul in 2011, and current Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani.
Afghan security forces have been struggling to fend off Taliban attacks since U.S. and NATO forces concluded their combat mission at the end of last year and the mission morphed into one of training and support. The new insurgent strategy appears to be aimed at forcing the government to spread its forces thinly across many regions of the country, to focus on security rather than developing the economy and creating jobs as it has promised to do.
Earlier on Tuesday, in Uruzgan province, officials said that a district has been under attack by militants for the past two weeks, with district chief Abdul Karim Karimi saying that since the fighting began 12 soldiers had been killed and dozens wounded.
On Monday, militants killed at least 26 police officers and soldiers in ambushes in southern Helmand province.