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Friday, 06.22.2012, 09:36pm (GMT)
KABUL: The US commander of Nato troops in Afghanistan on Friday accused the Pakistan-based Haqqani network of orchestrating a 12-hour siege on a lakeside hotel in Kabul that killed 18 people.
General John Allen blamed the Al Qaeda-linked network in a statement just weeks after US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States was running out of patience with Pakistan over its refusal to eliminate terror havens.
The Haqqani group, believed to be based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal district of North Waziristan, is blamed for some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan’s 10-year war.
“Afghan national security forces and coalition military sources acknowledge that this attack bears the signature of the Haqqani network, which continues to target and kill innocent Afghans and blatantly violate Afghan sovereignty from the safety of Pakistan,” Allen said.
Nato’s International Security Assistance Force confirmed that its troops and Afghan security forces had responded to the assault. But Allen emphasised the role played by Afghan forces, seeking to downplay concerns about the ability of the local police and army to manage after Nato combat troops withdraw in 2014.
Allen said he had been “extremely impressed” with the Afghan response.
“There should be little doubt about their ability and capability to protect the Afghan people in the years ahead,” he said.
He condemned the “unspeakably brutal attack” on civilians and paid tribute to the security guards and law enforcement officers who died in order to protect women and children.
A carefree birthday party and night out to celebrate the start of the Afghan weekend were reduced to destruction and butchery when Taliban gunmen stormed the lakeside hotel, opening fire indiscriminately on wealthy revellers.
Pools of blood, broken glass and hundreds of bullet casings littered the floor in the main dining room, where three young Afghan men were shot dead as they sat at a table sipping energy drinks, cut down in the prime of life.
Their blood-drenched bodies lay slumped out of their chairs on the floor.
A middle-aged man stood sobbing over the body of his nephew.
“Yesterday he told me they were coming to this place for a nice evening, now he’s lying there dead,” he cried.
The weeping of the bereaved and shouts of security officials Alone broke the silence on Friday at the Spozhmai Hotel, after the 12-hour siege finally ended.
On a balcony overlooking the glistening lake, a 22nd birthday cake lay half eaten on a table surrounded by a dozen empty chairs.
Nearby sprawled the bloodied body of a young man shot repeatedly in the chest.
Like many of the victims, he was dressed in Western clothes - jeans, T-shirt and sports shoes - a sign of the wealthy clientele that frequented the upmarket hotel, now battered and bloodied.
For some, the attack prompted a desperate bid for survival.
Police said they had recovered the bodies of three people who jumped into the lake in an effort to save themselves from the Kalashnikov-wielding attackers.
Sharifullah, 30, searched desperately through the wreckage of the Spozhmai for his friend who he lost in the chaos and bloodshed.
“I saw three armed men entering the area where people, families had gathered. Moments later the shooting broke out, people panicked and started screaming,” he told AFP.