Deadly attack as French general meets Afghans

17th November 2009, Comments 0 comments

Afghan insurgents fired a pair of rockets into a crowded marketplace as a French general met local leaders nearby on Monday, killing 10 civilians, Afghan and French officials said.

KABUL - A total of 28 other Afghan civilians were wounded in the attack in Tagab district, Kapisa province, just northeast of Kabul, deputy provincial police chief Abdul Hamid Hakimi told AFP.

"The enemy fired two rockets on the main bazaar in Tagab. Ten people, all civilians, were killed and 28 others were wounded," he said.

The bloody attack came as France's parliament was due to debate the mission in Afghanistan, amid mounting domestic political concern over a war opposed by a majority of French voters.

The attack occurred while General Marcel Druart, the commander of French troops in eastern Afghanistan, attended a "shura" of tribal elders 300 metres away.

French spokesman Admiral Christophe Prazuck told reporters in Paris that French and US medical teams evacuated some of the wounded to hospitals by helicopter, while armoured vehicles took others to the French base in Tagab.

Prazuck said that "three or four Afghans, including children" were killed outright, but that no French troops were hurt. Ten of the wounded Afghans were in a serious condition, he added.

Medical staff at a military hospital at Bagram Air Field, the giant, US-run base 50 kilometres north of Kabul, said helicopters brought in 13 wounded, some of whom required "urgent surgical intervention."

Doctor John Bini, head of the hospital's trauma department, said that one of the injured, an adult male in intensive care, was "not expected to make it due to severe head injury."

Four of the injured flown to the hospital at Bagram were children, ranging in age from four to 14, Bini said, adding that all were expected to survive their severe injuries.

Shamshir Khan, father of the one of the injured children at the hospital, said the attack came as Tagab held a market day for the sale of sheep ahead of a religious festival.

"There were a lot of people there from the region, because of the market day," said Khan, speaking through an interpreter.

Prazuck said Druart was attending the meeting as part of NATO's attempts to win the trust and support of local civilians in an area just 60 kilometres northeast of Kabul with a strong Taliban insurgent presence.

"A security cordon has been put in place by French forces based in Kapisa province, including Gazelle reconnaissance helicopters and Tiger helicopter gunships," Prazuck said.

France has the fourth largest contingent in the NATO force battling against the Taliban in Afghanistan, with 3,750 personnel assigned to the mission, of which 3,400 are based in Afghanistan itself.

This month, 2,500 French combat troops have been assigned to Task Force Lafayette, under American command, fighting in rough terrain northeast of Kabul to secure towns and transport links threatened by the rebels.

But as the French commitment has increased, concerns have been raised at home. Opposition lawmakers summoned Defence Minister Herve Morin and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to answer questions on the conflict on Monday.

In August, an IFOP poll of 1,005 French voters found 64 percent opposed France's participation in the campaign.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised not to increase French troop numbers in Afghanistan, although a small contingent of gendarmes is deploying to train Afghan police, and some members of his ruling UMP are getting cold feet.

At the weekend, the UMP speaker of the French senate, Gerard Larcher, told Le Monde that France should develop an exit strategy to avoid becoming an "occupation force" and to get troops home "within five or six years".


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