Kabul, Afghanistan • The Taliban has claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 21 people who were dining Friday at a popular Lebanese restaurant in downtown Kabul.
For years, foreigners have enjoyed relatively unrestricted activity in the capital, including access to a handful of Western-style restaurants and weekly parties brimming with music and alcohol. Although attacks were common, they rarely targeted Western civilians.
While the insurgents have largely focused their anger on military installations and government institutions, the attack on the restaurant, Taverna du Liban, a mainstay of the Kabul social scene that catered mainly to foreigners but also to well-to-do Afghans, showed a frightening willingness by the insurgents to strike noncombatants and civilian targets.
The attack, which the Taliban said was in retaliation for a coalition airstrike Wednesday in which a number of Afghan civilians had died in a village north of Kabul, took the lives of 13 foreigners from at least a half-dozen countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Russia and Lebanon. It constituted one of the largest losses of life for Western civilians since the war began more than a decade ago.
A suicide bomber cleared a path for two gunmen who stormed in and fired on diners, police said.
President Hamid Karzai, whose relationship with the U.S. has been strained recently by negotiations over a long-term security contract, expressed sympathy for the victims but also seemed to use Wednesday’s airstrike to criticize his NATO allies over the issue of civilian casualties.
“The war on terror will bear fruit when victims and terrorists are distinguished from each other and the elements of terror are fought against,” said Karzai, who appointed a committee to investigate the civilian casualties from the airstrike. “If NATO, led by the United States, wants to be the Afghan people’s ally, they should target terrorism.”
A U.S. military official said the airstrike was called in by Afghan and U.S. forces under fire from Taliban fighters.