Kabul, Jul 1: The New York Times correspondent Alissa Rubin has given a graphical account of how the Afghan police, armed with AK-47 cowered and ran away as the Taliban, armed with AK-47 and machine guns walked inside the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul and started spraying bullets on the guests.
The reporter quotes Nazir Amini, an Afghan businessman visiting Kabul from his home in Germany, who was present in the hotel when the terror attack took place.
"Nazir Amini had just returned from the buffet with a bowl of ice cream when two men with an AK-47 rifle and a machine gun started shooting guests around the pool at the Intercontinental Hotel, one of the capital's most fortified buildings
"Women and children screamed. Chairs tipped backward. Food slid onto the lawn as people started to run. Mr. Amini said he saw police officers running, too, tightly "gripping their own AK-47s as they raced away from the gunmen.
"I said, ‘Why don't you shoot? Shoot!' ” he recalled. “But they just said, ‘Get away from them.' And we all ran together.”
"Six hours later, at least 21 people were dead, including the nine suicide bombers who managed to penetrate several rings of security on Tuesday night to carry out the attack.
"The assault has shaken public confidence in the ability of Afghan forces, especially the police, to assume responsibility for security, even here in the capital.
"The scene painted by Amini and several other guests at the hotel vividly demonstrated the challenges facing the Afghan government as it prepares to defend its country without NATO troops after 2014.
“We talk about the transition to Afghan security, but the Afghan forces are not ready to take over their security and their country,” said Maulavi Mohammadullah Rusgi, chairman of the Takhar provincial council in northern Afghanistan, who was having dinner at the hotel with friends when the attack commenced. Three of his friends were killed.
“The security forces cannot even protect a few people inside the hotel,” he said. “How can they protect the whole country?”
The assault ended only after NATO helicopters joined the battle, killing three of the insurgents on the hotel's roof. Still, NATO officials took a more sanguine view of the performance of the Afghan police, saying that they had fought well, once they had their forces arrayed at the scene. “They acquitted themselves pretty well — it could have been a whole lot worse,” said a Western official.
But for the hotel guests, many of whom jumped over the perimeter walls, plunged into irrigation ditches or cowered in closets to escape the attackers, the police response was not only slow, but also cowardly. Several witnesses said police officers ran away or refused to shoot.
Guests milling outside the hotel on Wednesday morning said that without the assistance of the NATO forces, the mayhem would have gone on much longer.
“The main question in Kabul, and on the cusp of transition, is, Are they ready?” said another Western official here, referring to the police. “The Intercontinental attack introduces doubt, and if the transition is supposed to be based on the security conditions, then the conditions haven't been met.”
Rusgi, the provincial council official from Takhar, said that even after the shooting stopped at 5 a.m., the police were reluctant to enter the hotel, defying the orders of their commander, the police chief, Mohammed Ayoub Salangi.
“The police chief, Salangi, kept telling his people to march — to go, to go ahead into the hotel — but they didn't go,” he said.
Rusgi and 11 friends were at dinner when the attack erupted.
“When the gunmen started shooting,” he recounted, “me and my friend Judge Abdul Hanan jumped into a ditch, and I silenced my cellphone to make sure the phone did not make noise so that the gunmen would not shoot us.
“Then Judge Abdul Hanan got out of the ditch and bullets were coming from every direction, and we heard his cellphone ringing, and I told another guy who was with me inside the ditch, ‘See, Judge Hanan is going to make problems for us, and the gunmen will find out we're here if the cellphones keep ringing.' ”
Ten minutes later, when the shooting abated, Rusgi climbed out of the ditch to ask Judge Hanan to turn off his phone. “Then I saw he was bowing toward the ground, and when I moved his head I saw blood all on his body, and he was shot in his chest and belly, and at the same time his cellphone was ringing and I think his family was trying to call him.”
Moments later Rusgi found two other friends, who had been shot in the head as they tried to hide behind a tree.
A spokesman for the Afghan National Directorate of Security, Lutfullah Mashal, said that there were “loopholes” and “negligence” in the hotel security.
He suggested that the attackers might have been able to penetrate the well-fortified hotel, which sits atop a hill overlooking the capital, with help from guards at the compound or by disguising themselves as laborers, because part of the hotel is under renovation. Since the attack, the hotel has been closed, indefinitely.
The security lapses further weaken the public's confidence that Afghan forces are ready to defend the country. Mr. Amini, who is a car dealer in Germany, was deeply pessimistic.
“Forty-five countries have troops here, but security is still fragile — you cannot serve dinner in one of the largest and most secure restaurants in Kabul,” he said.
“Now we are hearing about a security transition to Afghan forces,” he added. “If they give the security responsibility to the current government at 10:00 a.m., the government will collapse around 12 noon. They cannot live without foreigners.”