Afghan villagers gather around covered bodies at the funeral for those… (Rahmat Gul / Associated…)
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — It was supposed to have been a festive occasion: a pre-wedding party held under the stars on a warm night. But suspected insurgent gunmen burst in on the gathering in a village field, fatally shooting nine men, including the groom, Afghan officials said.
Grieving family members and provincial officials said the attack -- which took place around 1 a.m. Thursday in a remote area of Nangarhar province, in Afghanistan's east -- might have been due to the fact that a relative of the targeted clan served as the district administrator. The Taliban movement has declared that anyone serving the Afghan government, even in such a relatively humble post, can be marked for death.
Across Afghanistan, dozens of local and provincial officials have been assassinated in recent months, or in some cases had narrow escapes. Favored insurgent methods are suicide bombings or ambushes as officials drive to or from work. Often, bystanders die as well, sometimes in large numbers.
Senior government officials, such as Cabinet ministers, are generally protected by elaborate layers of security. But lesser functionaries, particularly in the countryside, make far easier targets.
The campaign of killings is meant to discourage anyone from cooperating with the central government or the Western military. The United States and its NATO allies consider good governance, from the local level on up, to be an essential element of their counterinsurgency strategy. But the methodical strikes against officialdom make it extremely difficult to attract qualified people willing to undertake the risk that public service entails.
Police sometimes look to clan rivalries to explain attacks such as the one in Nangarhar's Dor Baba district. However, the family, supported by local authorities, insisted that it had no enemies.
The district chief who may have been the target, Haji Hamisha Gul, did not attend the late-night gathering. He said he had business in the district center. He confirmed the list of the dead: his cousin, who was the bridegroom; the groom's father, uncle and brother; two cousins and three other members of the extended family. Five others were injured.
The provincial governor, Gul Agha Shirzai -- who himself has escaped a number of assassination attempts -- said in a statement that he was saddened by the attack and that he had ordered a full investigation so the perpetrators could be brought to justice.
Elsewhere, the NATO force said a service member had been killed by an explosion in Afghanistan's south, but gave no other details and did not provide the nationality. The south, together with areas of the east along the border with Pakistan, has been the country's principal battleground. Most of the U.S. troops sent as part of President Obama's "surge" were deployed in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, which account for the largest numbers of Western battle fatalities.
American troops make up about two-thirds of the 150,000-member NATO force. The White House is expected to disclose soon the scope of a pullback set to begin next month.
Special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi contributed to this report.