The last few weeks have been marked by further heartbreaking violence in Afghanistan. Three major attacks on Kabul have claimed hundreds of lives, while an attack targeting Save the Children in Nangarhar has forced the charity to halt operations across the country.

In the coming weeks, we will be talking to experts about the security situation in Afghanistan and other complex environments. Here we wanted to draw together information about the attacks, to provide some background for those conversations.

A key take away from the following it that training and preparation can make a difference. The account of the two Greek pilots who survived the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel serves as a powerful reminder of this.

The attacks

The attacks on the 20th and 27th were claimed by the Taliban. The other two have been claimed by militants affiliated with Daesh.

Kabul Intercontinental Hotel attack

The 13 hour siege at the Intercontinental Hotel began around 9pm on Saturday evening, as five gunmen dressed in army uniforms and wearing suicide vests stormed the hotel. They were armed with pistols, hand grenades and Kalashnikovs, and worked their way through the six floors of the hotel, firing at guests as they went. One of the guests told the BBC that the attackers shouted ‘Don’t leave any of them alive, good or bad. Shoot and kill them all.

Afghan special forces, working alongside their Western counterparts, ended the siege just after noon on SundayTOLO News reports that they entered the hotel on Staurday evening after cutting power. Various outlets report that the situation turned into a siege, with concerns that guests at the hotel were being held hostage. The hotel is on a hill in the neighbourhood of Bagh-e-Bala, and the smoke from the attack was visible across the city.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack

The dead

At least twenty people were killed in the attack, including fourteen foreigners. Eleven of the foreigners were staff and pilots of KamAir, including six Ukrainians and two Venezuelans. Reuters reports that KamAir used the hotel as its Kabul base and has since repatriated 62 staff, around 40 of whom were in the hotel at the time of the attack. Four of the Ukrainians who were killed worked for Ukrainian Wings, a company that leased aircraft and staff to KamAir.

A citizen of Kazakhstan, a Greek national, a German aid worker and four Americans were killed in the attack –

AP reports that the German was Brigitte Weiler, who worked for the Marianne and Emil Lux Foundation – ‘she was a former German navy officer and nurse who would travel to Kabul at her own expense to deliver medicine, food and clothes to families in remote mountain villages in northern Afghanistan.’

Later reports put the death toll closer to 40 people.


Around 150 people were rescued from the hotel, including 41 foreigners. The AP has an incredible account of how two Greek pilots, Vassilis Vassiliou and Michalis Poulikakos, survived the attack, which we highly recommend reading. The pair were in the restaurant when the attackers stormed the hotel. Following the training advice they have been given, they fled to their rooms to hide. Some extracts –

“We overturned the mattresses and messed up the rooms, then opened the balcony doors to make it look as if we had escaped that way,” Poulikakos told Greece’s private Skai TV on Monday.

“I hid in the bathtub . Nobody entered my room, I was very lucky and it all ended after nine hours,” he said. “I was on the fourth floor. Vassilis was on the fifth and he was the only survivor on that floor, there were many more survivors on my floor.”

Vassiliou found he had no options available for escape, so he cut a hole in his mattress and hid inside –

Vassiliou said he spent 13 hours hidden under — and inside — his mattress, and managed to stay undiscovered even as gunmen used his balcony as a firing position.

“They broke down my door . and burst in. I had managed to slip under the bed. There were three of them in the room, one went onto the balcony, the other shot at the other bed and lifted it up,” he said.

When the gunmen had used up their ammunition they set fire to the fifth floor and disappeared for about an hour and a half. Vassiliou went out to the balcony and realized that there was no escape there — he even came under fire from forces besieging the hotel.

And a final point of survival from the Greek pilots – Vassiliou turned off his phones, so they would not ring and give away his location. Highly recommend reading the account of their survival.

Actor Massoud Hashimi was also present during the attack. When the shooting started he was hit by a bullet, but when the power was cut he was able to guide others to a safer place where they waited for three hours until special forces arrived. Hashimi is now warning others that the security situation in Kabul is deteriorating and people should leave if possible.


Attack on Save the Children offices in Jalalabad

Around 9am on Tuesday 24th January, a suicide car bomber detonated outside the Jalalabad offices of Save the Children. RPGs were used to breach the walls and enter the building. The Guardian reports that ‘Afghan security forces fought the gunmen for nearly 10 hours, at one stage rescuing nearly 50 people from the basement of the building as fighting continued on the floors above.’

Two soldiers, two security guards working for the charity and a civilian were killed. Around 27 people were injured. Save the Children has stopped programmes across Afghanistan as a result of the attack.

Kabul ambulance bomb

On Saturday, a massive bomb in an ambulance detonated on a guarded street near Sadarat Square, an old Interior Ministry building, the US Embassy, the EU’s offices and NATO’s Resolute Support HQ. The driver passed the first checkpoint on the street by telling police he was taking a patient to nearby Jamhuriat hospital. He was stopped by police at the second checkpoint. When he tried to drive around them, they stopped him again. He then detonated the bomb.

Authorities have said that at least 103 people were killed and more than 230 were wounded, the majority of them civilians.

Attack on military academy in Kabul

Early on Monday morning, a series of explosions occurred near the Marshal Fahim military academy in Kabul. Eleven soldiers were killed and 15 wounded during the attack, which last several hours. It started when a suicide bomber triggered his vest at the entrance to the base. Another militant blew himself up during the attack, two were shot and one was detained.

The academy is in the same location as two other bases, ‘including a NATO base that houses instructors for the academy.’


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