Six international soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, NATO officers have said, making Monday the deadliest day for foreign troops there in two months. The dead include three Americans and one French soldier. The nationalities of the other two have not yet been released.
The Americans died in a clash with militants during an “operational patrol” in southern Afghanistan. (BBC) A Taliban spokesman, Quri Yousuf Ahmadi, reached by telephone, claimed that the Americans were killed in an ambush in Sha Wali Kot district, Kandahar Province, by a single insurgent named Sardar Mohammad. Mr. Ahmadi said the insurgent hid along a path used by an American foot patrol in the heavily mountainous area, and then opened fire on them with an AK-47 automatic rifle. He claimed that Mr. Mohammad killed five American soldiers before the others returned fire and killed him.
France has said one of its soldiers was killed and another wounded while patrolling with Afghan troops in Alasay, a valley largely under militant control. In eastern Afghanistan, two members of the NATO-led forces were killed in an engagement with enemy forces. A sixth soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in the south.
Afghanistan’s high mountains and harsh weather once meant that winter was a respite from much of the war’s violence, but as the death toll on Monday shows, this winter is proving to be different. Fighting, which normally lessens once heavy snowfalls arrive, has continued this year because of an unusually mild weather.
The high death toll is partially because insurgents have changed their tactics and are using more powerful bombs. The number of foreign troops is also rising. President Barack Obama announced last month that an additional 30,000 US troops would be deployed quickly in Afghanistan to fight the insurgency. The reinforcements will take the total number of US troops in Afghanistan to more than 100,000. American troop levels nearly doubled in 2009, meaning more missions against the Taliban – and more potential targets for them. Pakistani military crackdowns along the border have in some places made it harder for insurgents to flee. Other NATO countries are sending thousands more troops as well as the U.S., although some are scaling back.
Last year was by far the deadliest year of the Afghan war for western forces. As many western troops were killed in Afghanistan in 2009 as in the entire period from 2001-2006. The deaths raised to at least 10 the number of U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan so far this year.
In a recent interview on US TV, the commander of US troops in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said the troops surge was having the desired affect and the tide was turning against the Taliban. The insurgency is largely concentrated in southern and eastern Afghanistan, but analysts say it is moving to the previously calm north and west.