Deadly attack as French general meets Afghans
Afghan insurgents fired a pair of rockets into a crowded marketplace as a French general met local leaders nearby on Monday, killing at least three civilians, a military spokesman in Paris said, AFP reported.
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.
Dozens of Afghans were wounded in the barrage, which hit a bazaar in the town of Tagab while General Marcel Druart, the commander of French troops in eastern Afghanistan, attended a "shura" of tribal elders 300 metres (yards) away.
"French and American medical teams with helicopters evacuated six of the wounded to military hospitals in Kabul, while armoured vehicles took others to the French base in Tagab," French spokesman Admiral Christophe Prazuck said.
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.
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 (38 miles) east 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."