Nazir Amini, an Afghan visiting from his home in Germany, had just returned from the buffet with a bowl of ice cream when two men with an AK-47 rifle and a machine gun started shooting guests around the pool at the Intercontinental Hotel, one of the capital’s most fortified buildings.

Women and children screamed. Chairs tipped backward. Food slid onto the lawn as people started to run. Mr. Amini said he saw police officers running, too, tightly gripping their own AK-47s as they raced away from the gunmen.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you shoot? Shoot!’ ” he recalled. “But they just said, ‘Get away from them.’ And we all ran together.”…

“The main question in Kabul, and on the cusp of transition, is, Are they ready?” said another Western official here, referring to the police. “The Intercontinental attack introduces doubt, and if the transition is supposed to be based on the security conditions, then the conditions haven’t been met.”