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NATO Kills Gunmen In Kabul Hotel Strike

Two NATO helicopters killed three gunmen atop a Kabul hotel after insurgents attacked it with suicide bombers, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said. At least 10 people were killed, and an unknown number of others were wounded.

Jason Waggoner, a spokesman for the coalition, said the helicopters fired early Wednesday morning on the roof where militants had taken up positions. He said three gunmen were killed and that Afghan security forces clearing the hotel engaged the remaining insurgents.

The helicopters attacked after four massive explosions rocked the Inter-Continental hotel, which is frequented by Afghan political leaders and foreign visitors. Up to four gunmen attacked the hotel.

"We've ... heard helicopters now flying overhead for the first time, which probably indicates that the Afghan security forces have asked for support from U.S. forces [and] NATO forces here on the ground," NPR's Quil Lawrence told Melissa Block shortly after the helicopter attacks were confirmed.

"Early on, we heard that there were four suicide bombers and two other gunmen possibly on the roof of the hotel," Lawrence said. "But because this is ongoing and at night with so many different Afghan security forces also involved, it's hard to tell who might be attackers and who might be security forces."

Samoonyar Mohammad Zaman, a security officer for the Ministry of Interior, said the insurgents were armed with machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and hand grenades. They were using grenade launchers, he said.

Zaman said there were 60 to 70 guests at the hotel. Afghan national security forces were moving inside the blacked-out hotel slowly as to not frighten or hurt any guests, he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said all the suicide bombers either blew themselves up or were killed.

Witnesses heard gunfire and explosions from inside the hotel where police battled with gunmen. Some guests fled down the steep, fortified hill that has usually provided the hotel with some security throughout many years of war in Kabul.

Police cordoned off the area and electricity apparently had been cut, leaving the massive building in darkness punctuated by muzzle flashes.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid claimed responsibility in a telephone call to the AP. He said 50 "foreign and local enemies" were killed and wounded.

But NPR's Lawrence said the Taliban's numbers are "usually wildly exaggerated."

Earlier on Tuesday, officials from the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan met in the capital to discuss prospects for making peace with Taliban insurgents to end the nearly decade-long war.

"The fact that we are discussing reconciliation in great detail is success and progress, but challenges remain and we are reminded of that on an almost daily basis by violence," Jawed Ludin, Afghanistan's deputy foreign minister, said at a news conference. "The important thing is that we act and that we act urgently and try to do what we can to put an end to violence."

The attack occurred the day before a conference was scheduled in Kabul to discuss plans for Afghan security forces to take the lead for securing an increasing number of areas of the country between now and 2014 when international forces are expected to move out of combat roles. Afghans across the country were in the city to attend, though it's unknown if any where staying at the Inter-Continental.

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