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Kabul hotel attack leaves 19 Afghans dead

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed Wednesday that his army and police would be ready to take over from foreign forces as planned despite a brazen assault on one of Kabul's premier hotels that left 19 people dead — including all eight attackers.

(Photo: Associated Press)

The more than five-hour standoff at the Inter-Continental — one of the biggest and most complex attacks orchestrated in the Afghan capital — ended when NATO helicopters fired rockets at Taliban gunmen on the roof. The attack appeared designed to show that the insurgents are capable of striking even in the center of power at a time when U.S. officials are speaking of progress in the nearly 10-year war.

Last week, President Barack Obama announced the beginning of a U.S. troop withdrawal. The transfer of security responsibility to the Afghans is due to officially begin in seven areas of the nation, including most of Kabul province, in coming weeks.

Militants, armed with explosive vests, anti-aircraft weapons and grenade launchers, began the attack around 10 p.m. Tuesday, on the eve of a conference in the capital about transition plans.

Ashraf Ghani, chairman of the transition commission, opened the conference Wednesday with blunt words for militants.

"The transition process will be done, and these coward enemies will not stop our plans," Ghani said.

As Afghan leaders work on transition, violence continued in other parts of the nation.

The U.S.-led coalition said a NATO service member was killed by insurgents Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, bringing to 62 the number of foreign troops killed so far this month. No other details were disclosed. Also in the south, the director of religious affairs for Kandahar province, was gunned down Wednesday morning in the provincial capital of Kandahar.

Security at the Inter-Continental and other key installations had been tightened for the conference and other official events taking place in the city. Officials said they were investigating how the insurgents were still able to get through and infiltrate the building.

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