A deadly attack on a Kabul restaurant popular among foreigners has raised worries that the assault could place pressure on the international aid community to reduce their presence in the country at a critical time.
Twenty-one people — 13 foreigners, including three Americans — were killed in the attack, which provides proof that insurgents can still execute deadly blows in Afghanistan's capital.
The restaurant, in a nondescript location on a quiet side street in the capital, is popular among Kabul's international community.
The Friday bombing struck at the heart of the international aid mission there. The dead included a variety of foreigners working for organizations, including the United Nations, that are critical for Afghanistan's political and economic development as U.S. military presence shrinks.
The attack comes as tensions are rising between Washington and the Afghan government over President Hamid Karzai's reluctance to sign an agreement to allow a residual force in his country after most American combat troops leave at the end of this year.
Karzai condemned the Kabul bombing but also used the occasion to criticize the United States for its actions in Afghanistan.
"If NATO forces and in the lead the United States of America want to cooperate and be united with Afghan people, they must target terrorism," he said without fully elaborating on what America should be doing. He added that America had followed a policy that "was not successful in the past decade."
The bombing and Karzai's constant criticisms are likely to only further alienate the international community, which is attempting to help Afghanistan, said Marc Chretien, a former political adviser to the coalition command in Kabul.
He said Karzai is quick to criticize any accidental civilian deaths caused by coalition forces but is much less sensitive to American and other coalition deaths.
Ahmad Majidyar, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the bombing will probably not drive international workers out of Afghanistan but will further alienate foreigners from the Afghans they are trying to help.
The attack might put pressure on Western governments to limit their presence in Afghanistan and restrict their movements, which would reduce their contact with Afghans. "This is what the Taliban wants," Majidyar said.
Mark Jacobson, a former NATO official in Afghanistan now at the German Marshall Fund, said he doesn't think the bombing will prompt international officials to leave. He said their movements are already restricted and it would be difficult to limit them further.
"It would be unfortunate if this became a turning point for the international community in terms of its engagement," Jacobson said. "I think it is important to show resiliency."
The White House condemned the attack on the La Taverna du Liban restaurant in a statement Saturday.
"There is no possible justification for this attack, which has killed innocent civilians, including Americans, working every day to help the Afghan people achieve a better future with higher education and economic assistance at the American University, United Nations, International Monetary Fund and other organizations," the statement said.
It was the deadliest attack against foreign civilians since the war began nearly 13 years ago, the Associated Press reported.
Two Americans killed in the blast worked for the American University of Afghanistan and a Somali-American who worked for the United Nations was also killed. Also among the dead were the International Monetary Fund's Lebanese representative, Wabel Abdallah, and Vadim Nazarov, a Russian who was the chief political affairs officer at the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in response to a coalition airstrike.
"The target of the attack was a restaurant frequented by high-ranking foreigners," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an e-mailed statement, the AP reported. He said the attack targeted a place "where the invaders used to dine with booze and liquor in the plenty."
Contributing: The Associated Press