KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Afghans, outraged over the killings of 21 soldiers by the Taliban, rallied in support of their army and to urge for tougher action against the militants.
Xinhua News Agency reported hundreds of Afghans demonstrated in Kabul Wednesday to condemn the recent killings of the 21 soldiers at an army post in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province and to urge the government of President Hamid Karzai to take a tougher stand against the Taliban.
"The government's hypocrisy towards peace and war with regard to the Taliban insurgents has encouraged Taliban rebels to conduct such cowardly attacks against the national army and brutally butcher 21 soldiers," Daud Sultanzoi, a candidate in the presidential elections set for April, told Xinhua.
In the early morning attack last Sunday at the Kunar post, the Afghan Defense Ministry said hundreds of Afghan and foreign terrorists attacked the facility in one of the deadliest militant assaults. Some reports have said the Taliban, which claimed responsibility, had infiltrated its militants into the base.
"We are gathered here today to demonstrate our support and our unity with the national army and calling upon the president to toughen his stance against the Taliban terrorists," Mir Ahmad Joyanda, a former legislator, said in a speech.
Xinhua said the Kunar incident came as the Karzai government is trying to hold peace talks with the Taliban.
"We want the president to clarify if he sides with the people or with the Taliban terrorists," one demonstrator said.
The protesters carried banners and placards reading "Death to Taliban, Death to Extremism," "The commander in chief of the armed forces, are you with us or with our enemies?" and "Long live the national security forces."
"We are here to say that we are with our national army and to tell them that they are not alone," Xinhua quoted woman activist Zahra Mossavi as saying. "We don't want to be controlled by the Taliban or any other totalitarians and radical movements."
Xinhua said there were similar rallies in western Ghor and Herat provinces in support of the national security forces. Another rally was planned Thursday in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
The latest developments come as the U.S.-led international forces are winding down their combat operations to leave the country by the end of this year. The international and U.S. forces lately have mostly stopped accompanying Afghan forces on combat missions, raising concerns about whether Afghan units can fight the insurgents by themselves.
Karzai's government recently released 65 detainees from the Bagram prison despite warnings by U.S. military officials that they were insurgents who might rejoin the Taliban after being freed.