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