The Taliban forces crept towards their target late at night, detonating a bomb and shooting at security guards to start their attack on Kabul's Inter-Continental Hotel.

Five hours later, with the building on fire and more than a dozen people dead, New Zealand SAS swooped low in a Black Hawk helicopter and ended the insurgents' resistance in a dramatic firefight.

Other SAS had cleared the building from the inside, with at least one suffering "moderate" injuries.

Prime Minister John Key called the actions "crucial" in the course of the battle.

But questions remain over how the Taliban forces managed to bypass heavily guarded checkpoints leading to the hotel, and the performance of the Afghan soldiers being trained by the SAS.

The nine insurgents, armed with suicide-bomber vests, rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles, had entered the grounds of the hotel about 10pm local time.

They had apparently avoided three security checkpoints and moved down a hill to the hotel, clashing with hotel security outside the ballroom area.

"They entered from behind, through the garden in the back," hotel manager Yusuf Hakimi told Al Jazeera. "They were throwing grenades from there and destroyed two of our ballrooms."

From there they split up - with some heading for the rooms and others making for the pool area.

Guests on the upper floors started jumping out of windows while others prayed for the attack to be over.

It was then that the response of coalition and Afghan forces swung into action.

After a US Predator drone flew over the hotel, taking video footage of insurgents on the roof, Nato helicopters counter-attacked.

New Zealand SAS fired from a US Black Hawk helicopter at three attackers on the roof, though it is unclear if the insurgents died from gunshots, missiles from the helicopters or suicide bombs.

The other SAS unit was with Afghan forces working their way through the five-storey building.

The Guardian newspaper's Kabul correspondent, Jon Boone, said New Zealand special forces played a "major role" in ending the siege, and two of the team were injured.

"Apparently a pair of grenades were found in a room and they exploded, and that appears to have killed at least one person and led to the injuries of the SAS member."

An unconfirmed report said the other SAS soldier was injured by Taliban shooting at the helicopter.

Four loud explosions finished the battle about 3am. Power was restored and medics started removing bodies.

The last of the Taliban fighters, who was injured and hiding in a room, blew himself up when he was discovered about 7am.

After the battle, the guests began to tell their stories. Many had run for their lives, over a wall and on to a hillside to the main road. They had to knock down a section of a wall to make it to the street.

Mohammad Salim Taraki, Mayor of Herat, barricaded himself in his hotel room after he saw insurgents running to the lobby, and then heard them moving from room to room.

Mr Taraki opened his door to a scene of body parts "everywhere", as well as shrapnel and shattered glass all shrouded in dust. "They broke open the doors, brought the people out and killed them. I am a Muslim and I was waiting for my turn," he told the Guardian.

"I was not even 1 per cent hopeful that I would survive."

Nazeer Amiri, an ex-police officer, said some of the Afghan police left as quickly as they arrived.

"I saw some of the security forces flee with their weapons. I was begging them to give me their guns, so I could shoot back," he told the Los Angeles Times.

At least 11 Afghan civilians and two police officers were killed. All the insurgents were killed.

Images of SAS soldiers from the battle were quickly beamed around the world and published in newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the Times of London and the Times of India.

1. At 10pm local time nine insurgents, wearing suicidebomber vests, enter grounds of Inter-Continental Hotel from behind the ballroom. They avoided three heavily guarded checkpoints by moving through vegetation near the building.

2. First clash was with hotel security outside the ballroom. Two rooms attacked with grenades.

3. Insurgents split up, some heading for pool area, others entering the hotel to find foreigners to kidnap or kill. Guests on the upper floors begin jumping out of windows.

4. Insurgents make it to roof, firing shots and rockets at civilians on the ground and in other buildings.

5. Afghan Crisis Response Unit arrives, mentored by NZSAS. SAS troops then get dragged into battle as witnesses report some CRU members flee.

6. US Predator drone flies over hotel on reconnaissance. Nato helicopters, includinga Black Hawk manned by an SAS team, then attack. Explosions heard from rooftop about 3am, which end the battle.

7. A few hours later, the last of the Taliban fighters, who was injured and had been hiding in a room, blew himself up.

- additional reporting agencies