Taliban insurgents stormed a popular lakeside resort hotel outside Kabul, using assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades to seize a retreat used primarily by Afghan families looking to escape the summer heat.
Backed by coalition helicopters and international military advisers, scores of Afghan security forces converged on the scene before dawn Friday as gunfire and blasts echoed on the shores of Qarga Lake, about 10 miles (16km) from the capital. The battle appeared to be over 12 hours later.
One policeman and three guards at the Spozhmai Hotel were killed as they tried to combat the attack, in addition to at least 12 Afghan civilians, according to Afghan police officials. Some insurgents involved in the attack were killed, Afghan police officials said.
Dozens of Afghans -- including women and children -- were trapped inside the hotel during the siege.
Militants held some hostage, while others hid in the basement, officials said. By noon, security forces were able to end the attack and free more than 40 people, officials said.
One of those caught in the assault was Agha Basir, who said he was enjoying the warm evening with friends when insurgents with pistols and AK-47s rushed inside around midnight.
"They were killing everybody," Basir said soon after being rescued by Afghan police.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was timed to an event in which diplomats and senior Afghan officials took part.
Abdulqahar Balkhi, who the Taliban say is a member of the insurgency's communications wing, added on Twitter that the hotel was targeted because it is "frequented by foreigners esp. Thursday nights for alcohol, prostitution and other immorality."
Afghan police officials, however, said there were no indications that foreigners or high-ranking Afghan officials were at the hotel when the militants staged the attack.
Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry, dismissed the Taliban assertions as "a piece of sh*t" that had no basis in truth. The insurgents may have hit the hotel because security forces prevented them from entering Kabul proper, he said.
"Qarga was a very soft, easy target," he said. "It is good for families, not for bachelors."
Afghan officials said between four and eight insurgents were involved in the attack. The lakeside hotel was once used by the royal family and has since been converted into a government-owned resort. The area is a well-known retreat for many Afghans from Kabul.
Foreigners also take day trips to the lake, but rarely stay overnight at the hotels.
The attack marks the first major insurgent operation in the Kabul area since mid-April when militants seized construction sites in three parts of the capital and used them as launching pads for attacks on nearby embassies and military bases.