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Afghan, NATO forces fight back after Taliban gunmen take hostages at lakeside hotel

Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images

Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take positions on a hill near the Spozhmai Hotel following an attack by Taliban militants at Qargha lake on the outskirts of Kabul on June 22, 2012.

Omar Sobhani / Reuters

Smoke rises from the hotel as NATO helicopters fly over the site of an attack on June 22, 2012.

Musadeq Sadeq / AP

People hide from militants outside the Spozhmai hotel on Lake Qurgha during an attack on June, 22, 2012.

By Cheryll Simpson, NBC News in Kabul and Reuters — Updated at 7:38 a.m. ET Friday — Guests swam for their lives after five Taliban gunmen attacked a lakeside hotel in Afghanistan, killing at least 18 people and taking 50 others hostage in a siege lasting several hours, according to reports.

At least five militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns attacked the exclusive Spozhmai hotel in the Qargha Lake recreation area around midnight local time on Thursday (3:30 p.m. ET) bursting into a private party and shooting dead hotel workers. Read the full story.

Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images

Smoke rises from the Spozhmai Hotel following an attack by Taliban militants on June 22, 2012.

Omar Sobhani / Reuters

ANA soldiers run for cover during the hotel attack on June 22, 2012.

Musadeq Sadeq / AP

Afghan security forces and civilians are seen at the Spozhmai hotel after the attack on June 22, 2012.

Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images

A half-eaten birthday cake is pictured at the Spozhmai Hotel after the attack on June 22, 2012.

Elite Afghan police backed by NATO forces ended a 12-hour siege on Friday at a popular lakeside hotel outside Kabul. Msnbc.com’s Alex Witt reports.

Ahmad Jamshid / AP

More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.