Insurgents fired two rockets Monday into a crowded market northeast of Kabul where the head of French forces in Afghanistan held a meeting with tribal elders. The attack killed three children and wounded 20 other people, the French military said.
Capt. Michel, who can only be identified by his first name according to French military policy, said the attack appeared to have targeted Brig. Gen. Marcel Druart, who met in the marketplace with elders from the Tagab Valley to discuss a major French offensive there.
Druart is the commander of the French La Fayette Task Force in Afghanistan. France has more than 3,000 troops stationed mainly north of Kabul in the Kapisa and Surobi areas.
Two Chinese-made Chicom rockets landed about 12 yards (meters) away from the meeting. The general was not hurt, Michel said.
French officers said none of the wounded were NATO troops. One French Caracal and three U.S. Blackhawk helicopters evacuated those hurt from the area. The French battalion stationed nearby sent a quick-reaction force to the scene.
On Sunday, about 700 French and 100 Afghan soldiers with more than 100 armored vehicles launched an offensive in the hostile valley, where militants stage quick strikes, then disappear into villages. Gunmen fired from the roofs of houses on the advancing column of vehicles during the pre-dawn operation.
The offensive aims to secure the area for a planned road, financed by the European Union, to move supplies from neighboring Pakistan, said Col. Francis Chanson, head of France's 3rd Marine Infantry Regiment.
NATO forces have bases in the Tagab Valley but have had difficulty stabilizing the mountainous area connected by small footpaths. Just 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Kabul, the valley is seen as a launch pad for attacks on the capital.
In September, two French soldiers were killed and eight wounded in a roadside bomb attack in the Tagab area.