WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Insurgents in Afghanistan are likely to increasingly embrace high-profile suicide attacks like the one last week that killed 21 civilians at a Kabul restaurant popular with foreigners, a senior U.S. commander said on Thursday.
Lieutenant General Mark Milley, who heads the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) joint command, called last Friday's attack, which shocked the small community of foreign aid workers, diplomats and journalists in the Afghan capital, "vicious" and "brutal."
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a suicide attacker and gunmen killed 21 Afghans and foreigners last Friday at a lightly guarded restaurant.
Milley told reporters at the Pentagon, in a video briefing from Afghanistan, that the reliance on suicide attacks, political killings and roadside bombs reflected the Taliban's inability to defeat Afghan and foreign soldiers on the battlefield.
"The short answer is, yes, I would expect more suicide- type, high-profile spectacular attacks," Milley said. "And I would expect that those would be aimed at Afghan security forces, Afghan officials, ISAF, our own forces, as well as innocent civilians."
Milley said the Taliban's "whole purpose is to create a perception, an atmosphere of fear, and I would expect additional attacks like that. They've been doing it all summer."
Such violence appeared to be turning Afghans against the Taliban, he said. Yet it may have a chilling effect on aid groups and other foreign operations in Kabul at a time when the future of the U.S. and NATO presence in Afghanistan remains uncertain.
Unless the Obama administration can persuade Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign a bilateral security pact with the United States, all 37,000 U.S. soldiers are due to leave Afghanistan at the end of the year. (Reporting By Missy Ryan; editing by Gunna Dickson)