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July is shaping up as deadliest month for troops in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan — July is shaping up as the deadliest month of the Afghan war for U.S.-led international forces, with the number killed already matching the highest monthly toll of the nearly eight-year conflict.

As of Wednesday, at least 46 international troops, including 24 Americans, were killed in Afghanistan this month, according to statements by the U.S. military and the NATO command. That matches the tolls for the two previous deadliest months — June and August of 2008.

The rate of deaths in July — about three a day — is approaching some of the highest levels of the Iraq war.

The latest reported deaths occurred Tuesday. They include an American soldier who was killed by a roadside bomb in eastern Afghanistan and two Turks, including a colonel, who died in a traffic accident in the north of the country.

In addition, six Ukrainian civilians and a 6-year-old Afghan were killed Tuesday when an Mi-6 transport helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan. The helicopter's owners in the former Soviet republic of Moldova said the helicopter was shot down, and the Taliban claimed responsibility.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell acknowledged that the United States has lost troops "at an alarming rate this month."

He told reporters that July has been "an extraordinarily difficult month for all of us who are so heavily invested in trying to better the situation in Afghanistan."

U.S. commanders have been expecting higher casualties since President Barack Obama ordered 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year to curb a resurgent Taliban that threatens not only the U.S.-backed Kabul government but also neighboring Pakistan.

There are about 57,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, and the number is expected to rise to at least 68,000 by the year's end.

Obama's decision has effectively shifted the focus on the global war against Islamic extremism from Iraq, where the United States still maintains about 130,000 troops. Only two U.S. service members have died in Iraq this month — both of nonhostile causes.

With the increase in troops heading for Afghanistan, the United States has stepped up the tempo of combat operations. About 4,000 U.S. Marines this month launched their biggest offensive since 2001 to break the Taliban stranglehold on the southern province of Helmand, the center of the country's opium poppy cultivation and a major insurgent smuggling route from Pakistan.

British forces, meanwhile, have been locked in fierce combat with Taliban fighters in another part of Helmand. Britain's 9,000-strong military force has lost 15 soldiers this month — including eight in a 24-hour period. The deaths have prompted national debate in Britain.

During a visit to Helmand on Wednesday, the outgoing chief of the British army, Gen. Richard Dannatt, said the international mission needs more soldiers to control territory won from the Taliban to give Afghans more confidence in security and wean them away from the Taliban.

"I have said before, we can have effect where we have boots on the ground. I don't mind whether the feet in those boots are British, American or Afghan. But we need more," Dannatt told BBC radio. "That is the top line and the bottom line."

The Afghan government provided only about 650 soldiers and police to join the ongoing offensive in Helmand.

For their part, the Taliban have increased their attacks, including deadly roadside or suicide bombings.

Obama said Tuesday that he is looking for an exit strategy and hopes military operations in Afghanistan can move to a different phase after the presidential election set for Aug. 20.

Ousted general

has no regrets

The general removed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan warned at his official retirement Wednesday in Washington that the war will not be won by any one leader and there is no silver bullet for victory. "Make no mistake, I was dismayed, disappointed, more than a little embarrassed" by his dismissal, Gen. David McKiernan told Gates and others gathered for the retirement ceremony. But, he added, he does not regret any of his battlefield decisions and acted with the best interests of his troops and families in mind. McKiernan was replaced by Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the Afghanistan commander after less than a year at the helm of the nearly eight-year war.

Detention protested: The inmates at Bagram prison, the largest U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan, have refused to leave their cells for the past two weeks to shower or exercise to protest their indefinite imprisonment. An aid group informed the families of several detainees that visits were being canceled.

Times wires

July is shaping up as deadliest month for troops in Afghanistan 07/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 11:22pm]
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