KABUL, Afghanistan — In a show of strength by insurgents in a province from which French troops are soon to depart, a remote-controlled bomb killed six people on Monday, including a local police commander, Afghan officials said.
The blast in Kapisa province was the second deadly attack in less than two weeks, following on the heels of a suicide bombing that killed four French troops on June 9. That prompted France’s new president, Francois Hollande, to declare that the French withdrawal would begin next month.
The French pullout timetable, under which its combat troops are to leave this year, has raised tensions with NATO allies, which plan to continue combat operations until 2014 and had urged France to stay in the fight as well. But attacks like this one are likely to solidify French public sentiment in favor of getting out as soon as possible.
Monday’s bombing, in the restive Tagab district of Kapisa, came as France’s ambassador to Afghanistan was visiting the nearby provincial capital, but authorities said there was no indication he was an intended target. The Kapisa police chief and the Interior Ministry said the six dead included four members of the Afghan Local Police, a U.S.-trained village force, one of them a commander named Karimullah.
The other two dead were civilians, and an additional 17 people were hurt in the explosion, which tore through a crowded bazaar, the provincial police and the Interior Ministry said.
Kapisa is on the latest list of Afghan provinces and towns where Afghan forces are meant to be taking over fighting duties from NATO troops. The transfer of security responsibilities is a key element of the Western exit strategy, and insurgents in the past made a point of stepping up attacks in the designated “transition” areas, seeking to raise doubts that Afghan police and soldiers will be able to keep order and fight off the Taliban.
Monday’s attack coincided with fresh declarations by Western military officials that the insurgency is divided and losing strength. A total of nearly 4,700 Taliban fighters have gone over to the government side under a “re-integration” program that began more than two years ago, said Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
“The growing number of Taliban who have stopped fighting and are permanently returning to their communities … would seem to be some evidence of a growing division between the majority of Taliban who want peace and those that want to destroy Afghanistan,” he said.
Critics, however, say the re-integration program is vulnerable to trickery by imposters who claim to be defecting insurgents in hopes of obtaining government benefits, and that relatively few of the fighters who have come over to the government side are from the country’s main conflict zones, in the south and east.
Special correspondents Hashmat Baktash and Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report from Kabul.
— Laura King