Two U.S. Troops Killed Tuesday in Afghanistan, Bringing NATO Losses to 23 So Far This Month
The latest deaths came as insurgents step up bombings and other attacks ahead of a major NATO operation in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar that Washington hopes will turn the tide of the nearly 9-year-old war.
Monday was the bloodiest day this year for international forces in Afghanistan, when seven American troops, two Australians and a French Legionnaire were killed in five separate insurgent attacks in the south and east of the country. Two civilian contractors training police, an American and a Nepalese, also died in a brazen suicide attack Monday in the southern city of Kandahar.
NATO said two service members were killed Tuesday in a makeshift bomb blast in southern Afghanistan, and the U.S. military confirmed they were Americans. They provided no further details.
The deaths took the toll on NATO forces to 23 in June, including 13 Americans, according to a count by The Associated Press.
Half of the Monday deaths -- five Americans -- were in a single blast in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said without giving further details. It was a grim reminder the insurgents can strike throughout the country -- not simply in the south, which has become the main focus of the U.S. campaign.
Two other U.S. troops were killed in separate attacks Monday in the south -- one in a bombing and the other by small arms fire.
NATO said three other service members were killed in attacks Monday in the east and south but gave no further details. The French government announced one of the victims was a sergeant in the French Foreign Legion killed by a rocket in Kapisa province northeast of Kabul. Three other Legionnaires were wounded.
"I think we're just seeing a hard day in theater," Lt. Gen. David Hurley, the acting commander of Australia's defense forces, said in Canberra, announcing his nation's 12th and 13th deaths in Afghanistan among some 1,500 troops.
Monday was the deadliest day for NATO since Oct. 26, when 11 American troops were killed, including seven who died in a helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan. The crash was not believed a result of hostile fire.
U.S. commanders have warned of more casualties as the alliance gears up for a major operation to secure Kandahar, the former headquarters of the Taliban and the biggest city in the south with a half million people.
Last December, President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to try to stem the rise of the Taliban, who have bounced back since they were ousted from power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. Obama has shifted the focus of the U.S. campaign against Islamist terror to Afghanistan from Iraq, where the U.S. is expected to draw down to 50,000 troops by the fall.
"There are a lot of troops in action, a lot going on at this present time, and this has just been a difficult day for us," Hurley said.
Afghans were also caught up in Monday's wave of violence.
Five Afghan private security guards were killed and four others wounded in a roadside bomb blast in eastern Ghazni province, the Interior Ministry said. Two Afghan security guards were killed and two wounded a gunbattle with insurgents in another part of the province, it said in statement.
Afghan special forces backed by U.S. helicopter gunships battled with insurgents for 12 hours overnight Monday in a remote Taliban-controlled region of northwestern Badghis province, said the commander, Maj. Zainudin Sharifi. Afghan troops counted the bodies of 23 militants on the battlefield on Tuesday morning, he said, adding there were no casualties on the Afghan side.
As fighting escalates, the Afghan government is reaching out to the insurgents in hopes of ending the war.
Last week, President Hamid Karzai won endorsement from a national conference for his plan to offer incentives to the militants to lay down their arms, and to seek talks with the Taliban leadership. The leadership has so far publicly shunned the offer, and the U.S. is skeptical whether peace can succeed until the Taliban are weakened on the battlefield.
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez in Kabul and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.