|Outside the Taverna yesterday
Last Friday's attack by the Taliban on a Kabul restaurant that catered to the international community is just about a perfect example of terrorism, as it is defined by the U.S. government: politically-motivated violence against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups to influence an audience.
The Taliban are influencing that target audience in a big way. They have an achievable strategy - making ISAF and the rest of the international community leave Afghanistan - and that attack was perfectly executed to advance their aims without causing unintended casualties that might have spoiled the political message it delivered.
The Taliban released a statement describing the attack's political message as revenge for a U.S. airstrike that killed civilians:
The attack was in retaliation to the massacre carried out by foreign invaders 2 days earlier in Parwan province's Siyah Gerd district where the enemy airstrikes destroyed up to 10 homes, razed several orchards as well as killing and wounding up to 30 innocent civilians mostly defenseless women and children.
The day before the Taverna attack, President Karzai himself condemned that airstrike for the same reasons, and noted: "The Afghan government has been asking for a complete end to operations in Afghan villages for years, but American forces acting against all mutual agreements ... have once again bombarded a residential area and killed civilians." According to press reports, there were indeed civilian casualties.
The statement by ISAF Commander General Dunford condemning the Taverna attack did a great job of missing the point, especially this sentence: "The Taliban must stop premeditated and indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, especially on those who are working to bring stability and prosperity to the Afghan people.”
That is an extremely odd choice of words, considering that there was nothing at all indiscriminate in the Taliban's attack. They killed every foreigner inside the restaurant, but none of the local employees. On the contrary, it was indiscriminate slaughter of civilians by ISAF that was the Taliban's stated justification.
The WaPo had this description of the Taverna:
For years, the bistro was a rare haven of relaxation for foreign diplomats, aid workers and Afghan officials in a gray city full of blast barriers and beggars. Hookahs bubbled in an alcove equipped with low couches, and Arabic pop music played in the background. Wine and beer were served discreetly, in china teapots, along with savory Lebanese appetizers of kebab, falafel, tabbouleh and stuffed grape leaves.
In the past year, as international missions began to downsize or leave the capital in anticipation of Western troop withdrawals, the number of foreigner-friendly establishments shrank, but La Taverna thrived.
-- snip --
In 2011, the restaurant added armed guards and triple-door steel barricades at its entrance to protect customers and win continued approval from foreign embassies and missions for their employees to eat there.
Those precautions were no match for the suicide team that attacked Friday night.
The Taverna was a soft target despite those steel entry doors and an anteroom for inspection of visitors. According to press reports, one bomber detonated inside the inspection area, clearing the way for two more attackers to enter the restaurant and fire at the guests, who were evidently trapped without a way to get out quickly. It probably isn't feasible for a 'foreigner-friendly establishment' in Kabul to have a large building with setback from the street, architectural blast hardening, and control of internal circulation, but short of such measures there really isn't a way to counter that kind of attack.
The attack killed nationals of many ISAF coalition members and international organizations, including three UN civilian staff from Russia, the U.S., and Pakistan, plus the Lebanese IMF Representative, two Britons, a Dane, two Canadians, and two American from the private sector, as well as 13 Afghan nationals. The impact will be felt immediately as foreign embassies and missions in Kabul will now further restrict their staffs to secure compounds, and will reconsider how many staffers and contract employees they need to keep in Kabul, as well as how soon they can close up shop in Afghanistan and go home.