NATO blames Haqqani for attack on Afghan hotel

Kabul, June 30: The U.S.-led coalition on Thursday blamed an al-Qaida affiliated network working jointly with Taliban fighters for a deadly attack on a luxury hotel in Kabul — an assault that raised doubts about the ability of Afghan forces to handle security as foreign troops withdraw.

The coalition also reported that a leader with the Haqqani network suspected of having provided assistance, including weapons, fighters and training, to the gunmen who attacked the Inter-Continental hotel was killed Wednesday night in a precision airstrike. Ismail Jan, the deputy to the senior Haqqani commander inside Afghanistan, and other Haqqani fighters died in the airstrike in Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktia province, the coalition said.

Nine suicide bombers launched an attack on the hotel late Tuesday, triggering an hours-long standoff with Afghan security forces, who were assisted by coalition mentors and NATO helicopters. In all, 20 people were killed, including the nine attackers.

The Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which has ties to both al-Qaida and the Taliban, has emerged as one of the biggest threats to stability in Afghanistan.

Jan, who moved from Pakistan into Afghanistan late last year, used to command 25 to 35 fighters who attacked Afghan and coalition forces along the Afghan-Pakistan border in Khost and Paktia provinces.

Jan’s location in Paktia was pinpointed with the help of tips from Afghan government officials, citizens and insurgent informants, the coalition said.

The Kabul hotel assault was one of the biggest and most complex attacks ever orchestrated in the Afghan capital and appeared designed to show that the insurgents are capable of striking even in the center of power at a time when U.S. officials are speaking of progress in the nearly 10-year war.

Violence continued Thursday.

Roadside bombs killed two NATO service members Thursday in separate attacks in southern Afghanistan. That raises to 64 the total number of foreign troop deaths in Afghanistan this month, including at least 44 Americans.

The provincial governor’s office in Helmand province also said a man, woman and four children were killed when the car in which they were riding hit a roadside bomb in Marjah district. It is not known whether the victims were from the same family.

Elsewhere, militants captured two de-mining workers and seized five of their vehicles Thursday in Gardez, according to Afghan Technical Consultants, one of five Afghan non-governmental organizations that receive direct funding from the United States to carry out mine clearance operations.

ATC director Eblaugh Kefatullah told The Associated Press that the deminers were working in a field around 11 a.m. when gunmen approached them, searched their pockets, confiscated their cell phones and apprehended them and their vehicles.