The gunmen - toting machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and vests laden with explosives - killed the hotel's security guards, then pushed their way inside and began firing at guests having late-night meals. Gunfire rang out for hours and smoke rose from the two-story hotel as NATO helicopters circled overhead.
The attack turned the normally placid hotel into a bloody scene of bodies and half-eaten food. One man with a gunshot wound to his torso was found dead under a tree. The bodies of two other men were slumped over each other in the grass. The body of one of the attackers was lying on a stone patio.
Some of the guests escaped while others were held hostage as the attackers battled more than 100 Afghan security forces who rushed to the scene with support from some coalition troops. The forces helped rescue more than 40 guests from the hotel.
There were differing accounts about the number of attackers. The Afghan police special forces' commander, Brig. Gen. Sayed Mohammad Roshan, said seven gunmen had been shot and killed, while the Taliban said only four of its fighters were involved.
"Some of the guests jumped from the window into the hotel yard. They were hiding under trees or any safe place they could find," said Mohammad Zahir, criminal director for Kabul police. "Three of the guests jumped into the lake and hid in the water."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-led international military coalition, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul all condemned the attack, issuing statements accusing the Taliban of targeting civilians. Fourteen Afghan civilians, three security guards, and a police officer died in the attack, Afghan police said.
U.S. Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, seized the opportunity to nudge Pakistan into taking stronger steps against insurgents hiding on its side of the border. He said the attack was likely carried out by fighters loyal to the Haqqani network. The al-Qaeda-linked group is based in Pakistan and regularly targets Afghan and coalition forces in Afghanistan. "This attack bears the signature of the Haqqani network, which continues to target and kill innocent Afghans," Allen said.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the hotel was targeted because patrons were drinking alcohol and participating in other activities banned by Islam. He said the gunmen killed only foreign diplomats and Afghan security personnel. Police said no foreigners were among the dead.