US, UK citizens in Afghanistan warned of threats to Kabul hotels

Countries tell their citizens to avoid hotels in Kabul, citing ‘security threats’ in the area.

The well-known Serena Hotel, a luxury hotel popular with business travellers and foreign guests, has twice been the target of attacks by the Taliban [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The United States and Britain have warned their citizens to avoid hotels in Afghanistan, days after dozens of people were killed at a mosque in an attack claimed by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K).

The Taliban, which seized power in August and declared an Islamic emirate, is seeking international recognition and assistance to avoid a humanitarian disaster and ease Afghanistan’s economic crisis.

But, as the armed group transitions from a rebel army to a governing power, it is struggling to contain the threat from ISIL’s Afghanistan chapter.

“US citizens who are at or near the Serena Hotel should leave immediately,” the US State Department said, citing “security threats” in the area.

“In light of the increased risks you are advised not to stay in hotels, particularly in Kabul,” Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office added.

Since the Taliban takeover, many foreigners have left Afghanistan, but some journalists and aid workers remain in the capital.

The well-known Serena Hotel, a luxury hotel popular with business travellers and foreign guests, has twice been the target of attacks by the Taliban.

In 2014, just weeks before the presidential election, four teenage gunmen with pistols hidden in their socks managed to penetrate several layers of security and killed nine people, including an AFP journalist and members of his family.

In 2008, a suicide bombing there left six people dead.

US aid pledge discussed

In August, during a chaotic evacuation of foreign nationals and at-risk Afghans, NATO countries issued a chorus of warnings about an imminent threat, telling people to stay away from Kabul airport.

Hours later, a suicide bomb was detonated in a crowd gathered around one of the airport gates, killing scores of civilians and 13 American troops.

The attack was claimed by ISKP, which has since targeted several Taliban guards, and claimed a devastating bomb attack in Kunduz city on Friday that ripped through a mosque during Friday prayers – the bloodiest assault since US forces left the country in August.

Over the weekend, senior Taliban and US delegations held their first face-to-face talks in the Qatari capital of Doha since the US withdrawal.

The talks “focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for US citizens, other foreign nationals and our Afghan partners,” according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.

“Human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society,” were also raised, Price said in a statement.

According to the State Department, the discussions were “candid and professional” and US officials reiterated that “the Taliban will be judged on its actions, not only its words”.

The Taliban said the US had agreed to send aid to Afghanistan, though the US said the issue had only been discussed, and that any assistance would go to the Afghan people and not the Taliban government.

Source: AFP