Conflict & Justice

NATO strike kills militant blamed for Kabul hotel suicide attack


Non-Afghan soldiers leave after taking part in a military operation against Taliban militants that attacked the Intercontinental hotel in Kabul.


Pedro Ugarte

NATO said Thursday it had killed a senior leader of the Haqqani militant network blamed for a brazen attack on a Kabul hotel that left at least 21 people dead including nine insurgents.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said Ismail Jan was "suspected of providing material support" to the Kabul suicide bomb attack on June 28.

It said he was killed along with several other militants in a precision airstrike in Gardez district, Paktiya province, on Wednesday.

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Jan was identified as deputy to the Pakistan-based Haqqani network's top commander inside Afghanistan, Mali Khan.

"The Haqqani network, in conjunction with Taliban operatives, was responsible for the Tuesday night attack on the Kabul Intercontinental Hotel which killed 12 people, including a provincial judge," ISAF said in a statement.

Afghan government officials had earlier blamed the network loyal to warlord Siraq Haqqani for masterminding the assault on the prominent hotel by at least nine militants.

The attackers killed two police guards, nine Afghan civilians including the judge, and a Spanish national. Six of the gunmen died when they detonated explosives inside the hotel and three were killed by Afghan army troops on the roof, according to CNN.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

"One of the suicide attackers told us on the phone that they are in the lobby and chasing guests into their rooms by smashing the doors of the rooms," a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, told CNN in an e-mail as the incident was unfolding.

The Haqqani network, based in Pakistan's North Waziristan frontier territory, is believed to be closely allied to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

Jan had entered Afghanistan from Pakistan in late 2010, ISAF said.

"During this time he led approximately 25 to 35 fighters in conducting attacks against Afghan and coalition security forces," it added.

"The security force tracked his location after receiving several intelligence reports from Afghan government officials, Afghan citizens and disenfranchised insurgents. After planning to avoid civilian casualties and mitigate collateral damage, the precision airstrike was conducted, killing Jan and several other insurgents."

It said Afghan-led security forces had captured or killed more than 80 Haqqani "leaders and facilitators" since January, mainly in eastern provinces bordering Pakistan.

Initial reports indicated no civilians were harmed in Wednesday's airstrike, ISAF said.

The hotel attack has highlighted the fragility of Afghanistan's security environment just a week after President Barack Obama announced he was withdrawing 33,000 US troops from the country.

Outgoing US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Obama "struck about the right balance" between the mission's political sustainability and the risks on the ground.

"The president had a real tight-wire to walk in terms of balancing military risk and political risk," Gates said in an interview with Reuters on the eve of his departure from the Pentagon.

"It wouldn't make any difference if the president said keep them there another two years if the Congress wouldn't vote the money ... Even some Republicans are beginning to talk about coming out sooner," Gates said.

The Haqqani network is affiliated with but operationally independent from the Taliban, and its activity could complicate any peace talks between the Taliban and the United States, AFP reported.