Event: The Taliban claimed credit for the Jan. 20-21 storming of Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel (which has not been affiliated with the international hotel chain by the same name since 1980) that saw four gunmen kill 18 people — including 14 foreigners — and injure 22 others, Al-Jazeera reported Jan. 21.
Tactics: Four gunmen entered the Intercontinental Hotel in the Bagh-e Bala area of Kabul and began an attack using small arms and grenades, though the Taliban released pictures of five attackers. Some reports suggest the attackers may have entered the hotel via a service entrance, and may have been let in by a kitchen employee. The gunmen asked where foreigners were in the hotel, passed over several people who said they were Afghan, then went room to room searching for non-Afghans to kill. Six Ukrainians were among those killed. Some reports, including one from Reuters, put the number killed as high as 30. Security forces eventually killed the gunmen after a 16-hour siege, reportedly with cooperation from Western military officials. The Taliban claimed credit for the attack.
Trends: Over the last year, the Taliban has focused its resources on battlefields in rural areas of Afghanistan in contrast to the Islamic State — a major force in Afghanistan and the Taliban's primary militant rival. The Islamic State has focused on Kabul, attacking another hotel and Shiite mosques. The Taliban has worked to avoid civilian casualties, especially Afghan casualties, even denying a May 2017 bombing the group was in fact likely behind. The Taliban have demonstrated the operational capacity to carry out sophisticated attacks in Kabul, having attacked the same hotel in 2011. On Jan. 18, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had warned of potential attacks on hotels in Kabul.
Implications: This attack demonstrates the Taliban can conduct military and insurgent operations in rural areas as well as terrorist attacks in the capital. The Taliban and the Islamic State are each active in Kabul, and both have the capability and intent to target foreigners there. Given the international attention this attack garnered and the Islamic State's rivalry with the Taliban, the Islamic State will be motivated to carry out a similar if not more spectacular attack. Foreigners remain a primary target for attacks and kidnappings for both groups, since they know the international attention that attacks on foreigners garner and the increased ransoms that accompany kidnapping foreigners.
Editor's Note: This analysis has been updated to specify that the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul is no longer part of the global chain by the same name.