With armed Afghan guards at the gate and a Democrat donkey mascot munching leaves in the shade, dozens of American expatriates held a fundraiser in Kabul on Friday for U.S. presidential hopeful John Kerry (search).

About 60 people, mostly nongovernment aid workers, gathered at a restaurant garden across town from the fortress-like American Embassy, declaring "Kabul for Kerry."

"It's important to show that there are Americans everywhere, even in Afghanistan, who want a change of leadership in the United States," said organizer Karen Hirschfeld, who is helping Afghans get ready for this year's national elections.

"For the future of Afghanistan, Iraq and America, we need someone with a more rational foreign policy who will work with the international community," said Hirschfeld, from Winchester, Mass. "We think John Kerry will be a good leader."

The gathering, open only to Americans, wasn't endorsed by the Kerry campaign, but "Kabul for Kerry" organizers were urging participants to contribute funds to his campaign and to cast absentee ballots for the election against President Bush in November.

They pinned Kerry badges on the lapels of participants who paid $10 to cover the cost of the breakfast, and hired "Franklin the Democratic Donkey" from its Afghan owner to serve as the party mascot.

It's not clear whether Kerry or Bush is favored by the majority of Americans here.

None of the thousands of U.S. military personnel based in Afghanistan to hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban rebels turned up for Thursday's event.

Organizers said plenty of U.S. Embassy workers had expressed an interest, but were barred from coming for security reasons — although 11 Ministry of Interior guards were deployed at the venue.

Ayan Hussein, 31, a health sector worker from Baltimore, said she wanted to do her bit to bring about a "regime change" back home in the United States.

Stephen Landrigan, 55, an education aid worker, said most of the people at the fundraiser were likely working on projects funded by the U.S. government, but still wanted Bush out of office.

Landrigan, from Boston and wearing a Red Sox T-shirt, said Kerry had done a good job as a senator for Massachusetts and urged him to visit Afghanistan as part of his election campaign.

"He's a man who can think, which we can't say about our current president," he said.

While many at the fundraiser said they had supported the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden, they deplored the war in Iraq and questioned current U.S. policies on Afghanistan.

Hirschfeld accused the Bush administration of pushing too hard for the first post-Taliban election in September — which has been scheduled according to a constitutionally binding agreement but overshadowed by a virulent Taliban-led insurgency.

"The U.S. needs a foreign policy success before November by pulling off democratic elections in Afghanistan. I'm not sure the country is ready for it," she said.