With 66 killed, July dead­li­est month for U.S. in Afghanistan

Austin American-Statesman - - SATURDAY BRIEFING - By Joshua Part­low

KABUL, Afghanistan — With the deaths of three more Amer­i­can troops Fri­day, July be­came the dead­li­est month for U.S. forces in the nine-year Afghan war.

The killings came in a man­ner and lo­ca­tion that have typ­i­fied the re­cent in­crease in vi­o­lence in Afghanistan. NATO of­fi­cials said two of the Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers died in a road­side bomb­ing, and an­other was killed by a sep­a­rate in­sur­gent at­tack, all of them in south­ern Afghanistan, where the Tal­iban in­sur­gency is strong­est. The rudi­men­tary bombs of­ten made from fer­til­izer are a fa­vored weapon of the Tal­iban and the pre­dom­i­nant killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The lat­est killings, a to­tal of six over two days, pushed the death toll to 66 Amer­i­cans, sur­pass­ing June, when 60 Amer­i­cans were killed. The over­all toll for NATO forces in July is still be­low the record reached in June, when 103 NATO troops were killed. This month’s coali­tion death count stands at 89, in­clud­ing the 66 Amer­i­cans.

With the buildup of 30,000 ad­di­tional U.S. sol­diers this year, Amer­i­can com­man­ders have pre­dicted a surge in ca­su­al­ties as they push into Tal­iban strongholds where there has been lit­tle coali­tion force pres­ence in the past. The sum­mer months are typ­i­cally the most vi­o­lent in Afghanistan, when the Tal­iban is not ham­pered by cold weather in the moun­tains and can go on the of­fen­sive.

But there has also been a steady growth in the size and po­tency of the in­sur­gency. U.S. and Afghan of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that the num­ber of Tal­iban fight­ers ex­ceeds 30,000 peo­ple. In­sur­gents have spread be­yond their tra­di­tional havens in south­ern and east­ern Afghanistan in re­cent years and now hold con­sid­er­able power else­where in the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly in the once-peace­ful north.

A se­nior NATO of­fi­cial said that one-third to one-half of the 82 dis­tricts around the coun­try that NATO con­sid­ers cru­cial to the war are now un­der in­sur­gent in­flu­ence.

The ten­sion in­her­ent in such a war zone es­ca­lated into an an­gry protest in down­town Kabul on Fri­day, as po­lice fired to dis­perse a crowd that set fire to two ve­hi­cles af­ter a traf­fic ac­ci­dent killed four Afghan civil­ians, ac­cord­ing to Afghan of­fi­cials.

The out­burst oc­curred on the road lead­ing from Kabul’s air­port, near the traf­fic cir­cle named for the slain guer­rilla com­man­der Ah­mad Shah Mas­soud that is di­rectly out­side the U.S. Em­bassy. It started when an SUV driven by Amer­i­can contractors struck a car car­ry­ing the four Afghans, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the U.S. Em­bassy.

The em­bassy state­ment said the Amer­i­can contractors “co­op­er­ated im­me­di­ately with lo­cal Afghan Se­cu­rity Forces af­ter the in­ci­dent.”

“Our sym­pa­thies go out to the fam­i­lies of those Afghans in­jured or killed in this tragic ac­ci­dent,” the state­ment said.

Dar­rell Wong

Ser­vices were held Fri­day in Clo­vis, Calif., for Staff Sgt. Brian Piercy, one of 66 Amer­i­cans killed in Afghanistan this month.

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