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Bombs kill British soldier, 11 civilians in Afghanistan

NATO’s toll for this month increases to 48

By Robert H. Reid
Associated Press / July 18, 2009
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KABUL, Afghanistan - Bombs killed a dozen people, including a British soldier and five children, in southern Afghanistan, authorities said yesterday, as US and British officials consider sending more troops to combat the growing Taliban insurgency.

The five children were among 11 people who died yesterday when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle in the Spin Boldak district of southern Kandahar Province near the Pakistan border, according to police General Saifullah Hakim.

The victims, all members of an extended family, were traveling to a local Muslim religious shrine for Friday prayer services, Hakim said.

Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban, and Hakim blamed the Islamic militants who plant bombs along roads in the area to target Afghan and foreign troops for the blast.

“Innocent civilians are dying as a result,’’ he said.

In London, the British Ministry of Defense announced that a British soldier was killed Thursday when a bomb exploded near a foot patrol in Gereshk, an industrial city of Helmand Province where fighting has been raging this month. The soldier’s death brings to 48 the number of NATO soldiers killed in Afghanistan in July - the deadliest month for the international force since the war began in 2001.

US commanders had been expecting higher casualties since President Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan this year to curb a resurgent Taliban, which was ousted from power in the US-led invasion of 2001.

About 59,000 US troops are in Afghanistan, and the number is expected to rise to at least 68,000 by year’s end. The total international force numbers about 91,000 troops from 42 nations.

But the rising casualty tolls have prompted US and British officials to consider whether to send more troops to Afghanistan to bolster security, especially around the Aug. 20 presidential election. Britain has about 9,000 troops in the country, including 700 sent this year to augment security for the election.

The chief of the British Army, General Richard Dannatt, said there was a case to be made for “a short-term uplift’’ in troop numbers until Afghan forces are properly trained and deployed - which he said could take 12 to 18 more months. He told BBC Radio that scaling down troop levels after the Afghan election would be the “wrong thing to do.’’

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the United States could send more troops to Afghanistan this year than had been initially planned, although any increase would not be significant. The Obama administration had wanted to wait until the end of the year to decide whether to send more troops.

The new commander of US and NATO forces, General Stanley McChrystal, is nearing the end of a 60-day review of troop requirements in Afghanistan and will forward his recommendations to Washington.

Also yesterday, a suspected US missile strike killed at least five alleged militants in a remote area of Pakistan near the Afghan border, Pakistani officials said. The United States has launched dozens of missile strikes in Pakistan’s northwest border regions, which are used as havens by Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters to launch attacks against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Two separate bombs in northwest Pakistan damaged a pair of oil tankers headed for NATO forces in Afghanistan, police said.

The attacks occurred along a major transit route for fuel and supplies headed to US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.