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“The Taliban propaganda is saying that there was immoral activity there and that people were drinking alcohol,” said Zahir, the criminal director for the Kabul police. “That is totally wrong. These are people who had worked all week and had gone to the lake to have a restful dinner with their families. The view there is very good for relaxation. There is no alcohol.”

The hotel, situated on a man-made lake, is a popular place for well-to-do Afghans to spend Thursday night — the beginning of the Afghan weekend — or for picnic excursions on a Friday when paddleboats and horseback riding are on offer. Though international workers do go to Qargha lake, Afghans make up the majority of the clientele at the hotels and kebab shops along its shore.

Security at the lake is light compared with targets inside the Afghan capital, which has been hit frequently as the Taliban show they can still strike very close to the seat of the Afghan government. While hotels at the lake have armed guards, there are no massive blast walls and security cordons that surround government and military buildings in Kabul. Zahir said only two of the three guards killed at the hotel were armed.

The hotel was a soft target compared with the attacks insurgents have launched inside the city in recent years, including taking over construction sites and firing down on embassies and storming the tightly secured Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul last summer.

The week has been particularly violent in Afghanistan, as insurgents stepped up attacks against international forces. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked U.S. and Afghan forces at a checkpoint in a busy market in the east, killing 21 people, including three U.S. soldiers. The same day, seven Afghan civilians were killed by a roadside bomb.

Those bombings came the day after two attacks in the south in which militants stormed a NATO military base and attacked a police checkpoint. U.S. troops were wounded in the attack on the NATO base, officials said. On Monday, three gunmen dressed in Afghan police uniforms killed one American service member and wounded nine others in Kandahar’s Zhari district.

The fighting suggests that the Taliban are not planning to wait for international combat forces to complete their exit from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, has to withdraw 23,000 American troops by the end of September, leaving about 68,000 U.S. military personnel in the country.

Separately, the U.S.-led coalition said two NATO service members were killed Friday by insurgents in southern Afghanistan. No other details were released and it was not clear whether they were killed in the same attack. So far this year, 203 NATO service members have been killed in Afghanistan.


Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Heidi Vogt in Kabul contributed to this report.