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Toll of bombs jumps sixfold in Afghanistan

Troop deaths on record pace Mortality high for civilians, too

By Jason Straziuso
Associated Press / August 12, 2009

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KABUL, Afghanistan - US and NATO deaths from roadside and suicide bomb blasts in Afghanistan soared sixfold last month compared with July last year, as militants detonated the highest number of bombs of the eight-year war.

And in recent days, three US Marines and a Polish soldier have died, setting August on course to surpass the record 75 deaths US and NATO troops suffered from all causes in July.

US commanders have long predicted that 2009 would be the deadliest year of the war, after President Obama ordered an additional 21,000 troops here to try to quell the rising Taliban insurgency. A record 62,000 US troops are now in Afghanistan.

US, NATO, and Afghan troops are working to protect voting sites around the country so that Afghans can take part in the country’s second-ever direct presidential election Aug. 20. Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt the vote, and attacks are on the rise around Afghanistan, where roadside bombs are now the cause of the majority of US and NATO deaths.

Last month, 49 coalition troops died in bomb attacks, a more than sixfold increase from the eight killed in roadside and suicide bomb attacks in July 2008, according to figures released yesterday by the US-based Joint IED Defeat Organization.

The number of incidents from IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, soared to 828, the highest level of the war and more than twice as many as in July 2008. Of those 828 incidents, 410 bombs were found and neutralized and 310 were ineffective. But 108 bombs detonated, triple the 36 IED blasts of a year ago, an increase that suggests militants are getting better at placing and detonating bombs.

“The major challenge today for us is roadside bombs and suicide attacks,’’ said General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry. Azimi said that Taliban militants have figured out that roadside bombs are an effective method of attack. “They stay safe while the other side suffers.’’

Though roadside bombs target US, NATO, and Afghan troops, the blasts have killed a record number of civilians this year as well. Nine Afghans riding in a vehicle died in a bomb blast yesterday in Kandahar Province, said Daud Farhad, a doctor at Kandahar’s Mirwais hospital.

“The enemy has moved to increase the use of indiscriminate IEDs against our forces as well as the Afghan people,’’ said US Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician, a spokesman for the NATO-led force. He said IED attacks are up in part because of increased operations by NATO troops.

Afghan soldier deaths from IEDs are also up sharply, Azimi said, but he had no figures. A roadside bomb in Zabul killed two Afghan soldiers yesterday, said Lieutenant General Sher Mohammad Zazai.

At least 14 NATO troops, including at least seven Americans, have died in bomb blasts this month.

Some 4,000 US Marines who stormed into southern Helmand Province last month were confronted with dozens of bombs buried in Afghanistan’s dirt roads. Militants have become more sophisticated at hiding the bombs, and have begun planting several in close proximity, troops say.

British troops operating in Helmand have also suffered greatly from roadside bombs. A record number of British troops - 22 - died in Afghanistan last month, including 12 from explosions, raising an outcry in Britain about a lack of helicopters and other equipment.

More than 230 coalition troops were wounded in bomb attacks last month, more than triple the 67 wounded last July, US figures show. Joint Task Force Paladin, the counter-IED unit at the main US base at Bagram, predicted earlier this year that IED attacks would rise 50 percent in Afghanistan in 2009.

A recent UN report said at least 1,013 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year from insurgents’ bombs, compared with 818 for the same period in 2008 - an increase of 24 percent.

Even as bomb blasts spike in Afghanistan, such attacks have dropped precipitously in Iraq.

No coalition troops died in Iraq last month from bomb attacks, only the second month that has happened since the military began keeping statistics in June 2003. March 2009 was the other month.

The NATO command in Afghanistan said yesterday that three US troops died in southern Afghanistan in separate “hostile fire incidents.’’ It did not disclose the exact location of the attacks. The first died of wounds suffered in an incident that occurred Saturday, another died Sunday, and the third died Monday, a NATO statement said.