Afghan official: Attack underscores Taliban threat

KABUL – The deaths of 14 civilians in a rocket attack presumably aimed at military officials and local leaders underscores the inability of NATO to successfully defeat the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan, an official said Tuesday.

Monday's attack in Tagab missed the meeting but the rockets hit in the crowded market area, killing 14 Afghan civilians and wounding dozens more, said Afghan Gen. Paikan Zamaray. His tally adds two more deaths than previously reported.

About 15 people were so seriously injured that they were evacuated to NATO hospitals for treatment, provincial Police Chief Matiullah Safi said.

French Brig. Gen. Marcel Druart the meeting, known as a shura, continued despite the attack to show that the Taliban cannot disrupt NATO's plans in a tense valley where both sides are competing for influence.

"I think it was a kind of desperate course of action because they are not in the situation where they can fight against us and they can't prevent us from freedom of movement along the Tagab valley," Druart told reporters in Kabul.

But a provincial council member said that such a bold attack just a day after French and Afghan forces launched a major offensive to secure Tagab Valley shows that the international forces aren't trying hard enough.

"They have jet fighters that can see everything. They can see the Taliban. But what is the use? They do not stop the attacks," Mohammad Arif Malakjan said.

Others said that they just felt more than ever that the Taliban threat will not go away.

"The security situation in Tagab is so bad this year," said Najibullah Rahimi, a member of the district council. "The people are demoralized by both sides. The foreigners and the insurgents fight but the civilians are the ones who are sacrificed."

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied any role in the attack and condemned the civilian deaths, saying international forces must have opened fire. The Islamist extremist group typically does not claim responsibility for attacks that result in civilian deaths.

Rahimi said that it is the repetition of such violent incidents that threatens the valley, because it will prompt retaliation against whomever is deemed responsible.

"If these kinds of incidents happen, it will have consequences in the future because the people are just getting angrier and angrier," he said.