KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — U.S. forces lost 23 soldiers in Afghanistan since Friday, marking a bloody escalation by the insurgency as a major U.S.-led offensive seeks to capture the spiritual homeland of the Taliban movement in Kandahar.
The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said it is gaining ground against the insurgents, but violence is rising across the country, including in areas that were considered relatively safe.
Six U.S. soldiers were killed Tuesday, while three Afghan workers for the British charity Oxfam were killed by a roadside bomb in Badakhshan, which had been one of the safer places in the country.
The U.S. death toll for August stood at 56. Until the late month spike, it appeared that the death toll for August would be well below the back-to-back monthly records of 66 in July and 60 in June.
NATO said four of the Americans who died Tuesday were killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan, while two died in gunfights with insurgents in the country's south. No other details were released.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Copenhagen, Denmark, that higher casualties were inevitable because more troops have arrived in Afghanistan in recent weeks, bringing the overall alliance force to more than 140,000 — including 100,000 Americans. The U.S. figure is more than triple the number of American service members in Afghanistan at the beginning of last year.
"Right now we see more fighting and unfortunately also more casualties," Fogh Rasmussen said. "But that is the inevitable result of sending more troops. … On top of that, we now attack the Taliban strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar. That of course means more fighting and unfortunately also more casualties."
Of the 23 American losses since Friday, 17 were the result of improvised explosive devices, according to figures provided by coalition officials. In that period, only one non-American coalition soldier was killed.
Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban, from where Mullah Omar had ruled until Afghan and U.S. forces toppled him from power in 2001. Controlling the province is considered to be the primary goal of the Taliban, but until this year, analysts say coalition forces didn't commit sufficient troops to the area.
The coalition and Afghan forces say they've improved security in Kandahar city, though it remains a dangerous place, and gained control over most of the Arghandab valley to the north of the city. The next goal of the push in the south, expected to start within days, is to seize the Taliban-controlled districts of Zhari and Panjwai, where there is little Afghan government presence.
The coalition is under pressure to demonstrate progress in Afghanistan ahead of President Barack Obama's deadline of July 2011 to begin the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan.
Information from the Associated Press and McClatchy Newspapers was used in this report.