Afghanistan: NATO Troops Killed
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|Mon, 06-21-2010 - 9:51am|
KABUL â€” Bomb attacks and a helicopter crash killed six NATO soldiers on Monday in southern Afghanistan, where thousands of US-led troops are sharpening an ambitious campaign to flush out Taliban militants.
In the deadliest incident, three Australian commandos and a US soldier were killed when their helicopter crashed in Kandahar province, the single worst loss of life for the Australian military in the nearly nine-year Afghan war.
Another two NATO troops, including an American, were killed in separate bomb explosions elsewhere in the south, the spiritual home of the Taliban militia that is fighting an increasingly deadly insurgency against Western troops.
On top of the deadly day, London announced that 300 British troops had now died in Afghanistan after a soldier died from wounds suffered in an explosion earlier this month in the southern province of Helmand.
The incidents brought to 61 the number of NATO soldiers killed in the Afghan conflict this month, and to 281 the number so far this year, according to an AFP tally.
The deadliest month for the Western coalition was August last year, when 77 foreign soldiers were killed. Last year, 520 NATO troops died -- their deadliest annual total yet.
Much of southern Afghanistan is blighted by the Taliban insurgency, now in its deadliest phase since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the hardline Islamist regime and installed a Western-backed administration.
The US military has warned that casualties will inevitably mount as foreign forces build up their campaign to oust the militants from Kandahar, the Taliban heartland and a hotbed of bombings, assassinations and lawlessness.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited Afghanistan earlier this month, said British troops would leave "as soon as they (Afghans) are able to take care and take security for their own country".
"Another family with such grief and pain and loss. Of course the 300th death is no more or less tragic than the 299 that came before," he said.
Australia, which said Monday's helicopter crash was not caused by enemy fire, also mourned.
"This is a tragic day for Australia and the Australian Defence Force," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told parliament. "This is a very heavy price to pay."
It was the second helicopter crash to kill NATO troops this month. Taliban militants killed four US soldiers on June 9 when they shot down a helicopter in Helmand.
Two weeks ago, NATO suffered one of its heaviest tolls in a single day when 10 of its soldiers including at least one American were killed in a string of attacks.
NATO, US and Afghan soldiers are preparing their biggest operations yet against the Taliban in Kandahar, with total foreign troop numbers set to peak at 150,000 across the country by August.
The Kandahar operation promises to be a major test of Western military efforts to bring a quick end to the war, facing a shortage of Afghan security forces and scepticism among residents as well as growing opposition at home.
This month NATO commander US General Stanley McChrystal said the make-or-break operation would move at a slower pace than initially planned.
Apart from the shortage of Afghan forces, McChrystal said more political work was required to prepare the ground for military operations to ensure support from Kandahar's leaders and the local population.
The Taliban last month vowed a new campaign of attacks on diplomats, lawmakers and foreign forces, and has so far rejected a plan drawn up at a landmark peace meeting to give jobs and money to those who lay down arms.
As part of the plan from the "peace jirga", convened by President Hamid Karzai early this month, 20 Taliban suspects have been freed from jails in Afghanistan, an adviser to the president said Monday.
The prisoners included a dozen men detained by the US military at Bagram Air Base, two under police custody in Kabul and six from a small prison in the eastern province of Khost, the official told AFP.
"We reviewed their cases one by one but there was not enough evidence against them," said Nasrullah Stanikzai, a member of the government committee assigned to review cases of the prisoners in hopes of gaining Taliban trust.