The deadly Taliban attack on a luxury hotel in Kabul was barely a blip on the radar of Afghans hardened to repeated bombings, but it has rattled the nerves of expatriate Westerners.
A few foreigners have already left; others are questioning whether it's too risky to work in Afghanistan because they could be targeted by militants seeking to undermine the U.S.-backed government.
This week's attack on the Serena Hotel was the first major strike at foreign civilians in the Afghan capital, and it was followed by a Taliban threat against restaurants favored by foreigners.
The impact was immediate for businesses serving expatriates — thought to number between 2,000 and 4,000, almost all working for aid agencies or diplomatic missions.
Kabul restaurants popular with foreigners are now nearly empty at night. Police have reinforced their checkpoints around the city and are conducting more spot searches of cars.
"Almost everyone has adopted changes in their security postures," said a development worker who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with his employer's policy. "This represents a new terrain for the civilian development community."
The militants in Afghanistan have emulated the pattern of the insurgents in Iraq. Drive out the civilian aid workers, bring aid to a halt, and undermine the government. In fact they've been doing so for some time now, but this strike, like the attack on the UN Headquarters, is designed to teach foreigners that there is nowhere safe for them in the country, even in the heart of Kabul.
Incidentally, counter-insurgency experts like Air Force General Charles Dunlap believe the correct response is more airstrikes. In fact, one could even argue that had NATO fighters bombed the hotel first, it would have deprived the militants of a feasible target.