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At least 14 people have been confirmed dead after a gun attack on a popular guesthouse in Kabul on Wednesday night, according to officials, as Afghanistan experiences an intensification of violence without foreign combat support.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack at the Park Palace hotel in an upscale neighborhood, which began at around 8.30pm local time as some guests were gathering for a dinner and others were arriving for a concert.
Nine foreigners — including an American, Briton, Italian, four Indian citizens, and two other victims of unknown nationality — were among those killed, according to AP.
"It was a suicide mission carried out by one of our mujahideen from Logar. The attack was planned carefully to target the party in which important people and Americans were attending," said a statement released by the Taliban.
Police criminal investigation chief Farid Afzali Kabul said 11 people were killed by one attacker, reported Reuters.
Kabul Police Chief, General Abdul Rahman Rahimi, had earlier told reporters police were able to rescue 44 people successfully from the Park Palace guesthouse. The building was apparently used predominantly by Indian nationals.
Rahimi said the attack departed from the way most attacks are conducted by militants in Afghanistan, who usually favor a forward assault on their targets, breaching the perimeter and killing guards to gain access. This time, it appears the attacker was inside the guest house among civilians when the gunfire started.
The Taliban launched their annual spring offensive last month. Severe Afghan winters limit the worst fighting to spring and summer.
This is the first fighting season that Afghan government forces face attacks without the full support of foreign combat troops. The majority of international forces withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014, leaving behind advisors and small garrisons.
The director of public affairs for NATO in the country, Colonel Brian Tribus, said at the start of May that the number of killed and wounded Afghan security forces was 70 percent higher this year than during the same period last year according to Bloomberg.
"We are taking so many casualties, that's the reality," Afghan Interior Minister Nur al-haq Ulumi told Bloomberg. "We are fighting by ourselves."
Even before the withdrawal, violence had been escalating in the country, with the Afghan National Army suffered increasing casualties and desertions during the final months of Western combat troop support. In the 10 months between February and November last year, the Afghan Army shrunk to 169,203 members, losing 15,636 personnel or 8.5 percent of the force.
Civilians have also been increasingly at risk. More than 3,600 non-combatants were killed by fighting in 2014 according to the UN mission in Afghanistan, a 25 percent increase on the year before. The number of civilians killed and injured was more than 10,000, the highest figure since 2009.
Despite the increasing violence, negotiations have continued between the Afghan national government and the Taliban to come to some kind of peace agreement. Recent talks between the two parties hosted by Qatar resulted in a statement by the Taliban on May 4, in which the Islamist group signaled it was potentially open to reaching a settlement with the government.
"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [Taliban] once again as a policy clearly states that it does not want to harm others and also won't allow anyone to use Afghan soil against others," the statement said, adding that the group sought "cooperation in all sectors with all countries, including neighbors, and welcomes the efforts of anyone in bringing peace to Afghanistan."