NZ SAS Troops Played Major Role in InterContinental Hotel Firefight


New Zealand special forces soldiers after taking part in a military operation against Taleban militants that attacked the InterContinental hotel in Kabul. The photo has been altered to hide the soldiers' identities. - PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images


Elite New Zealand soldiers fired on roof-top insurgents from a Black Hawk helicopter during a firefight at a Kabul hotel where 10 civilians were killed.

Two Kiwi Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers were injured in the stoush, a five-hour standoff with Taleban soldiers at the InterContinental Hotel in the Afghan capital yesterday.

Defence Minister Wayne Mapp said this morning that the SAS troops came to the rescue of Afghan Police when they were overcome by a Taleban attack on a hotel in Kabul.

Afghan security officials said at least nine militants had stormed the building, a hotel popular with Westerners.

Three of the attackers stormed through the hotel and on to the roof, forcing Afghan officials to ask the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for help, the BBC reported.

Guardian correspondent Jon Boone told Radio New Zealand that the Kiwis played a "major role" in bringing the siege to a close.

"There were two New Zealand units in the area," Boone said.

"One team was operating out of a US Black Hawk helicopter, flying around in the sky above the hotel, and firing down on the roof where three insurgents were based."

"They were taking pot shots off the roof... and I think they were firing rocket-propelled grenades into houses."

Boone said a second team of New Zealanders then went into the hotel.

"They were involved in the mopping up," he said.

Boone said one of the soldiers injured was in the group clearing out the hotel, and was apparently hurt after a pair of grenades found in a room exploded.

Speaking from Washington, Dr Mapp said the Afghan Police Crisis Response Unit led the attack against the Taleban insurgents.

''It proved to be necessary to take an active role,'' he told Radio New Zealand. ''This was a big event. It was a high-profile target which had been selected by the Taleban and it was essential it be resolved successfully, and it indeed it was.''

The attack took hours to bring under control, he said.

''The insurgents were in different parts of the hotel. The Defence Force has informed me the Crisis Response Unit actually did quite well but they are still building their capability.

''Our special forces are much more highly trained at this point in time. The Afghan special forces capability is on a trajectory from a fairly low base.''

The Afghan special force had come a long way but were still not in the same league as the SAS, Dr Mapp said.

''We've obviously got to continue to build up the capability of the Afghan police. That is taking a bit of time but they have made huge gain over the past 24 months. They simply would not have been able to the sorts things there were able to do in Kabul over the past couple of days 24 months ago.''

The SAS is due to pull out of Kabul next March and earlier this year halved its contingent in the city.

Dr Mapp said the unit's actions had been ''noted'' in Washington.

Earlier, Prime Minister John Key said the SAS soldiers were initially in the area in a mentoring role, but were engaged when the situation escalated.

"There was a need for the New Zealanders to go into the building involved. They played an active part, as a result of that, two New Zealanders were injured."

Photos of the SAS troops have been distributed worldwide. One photo, taken by a wire service photographer outside the hotel, shows four Kiwi soldiers walking away from the scene, one with his helmet removed and a cut down the right side of his face.

The state-owned 1960s hotel, which is not part of the global InterContinental chain, was hosting delegates attending an Afghan security conference and a large wedding party when the insurgents struck at dinner-time.

Kabul police chief Ayub Salangi told AFP that 10 people, mostly workers at the hotel, were killed in the raid, which began about 10.30pm Afghan time.

"Unfortunately, as a result of this terrorist attack, 10 of our countrymen, all of them civilians, lost their lives," he said.

Three police officers were injured.

The Taleban have claimed responsibility for this week's attack, part of an increased wave of violence in Kabul since Osama bin Laden was killed on May 2.

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