KABUL (AFP) – A total of 100 foreign soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan have died in June, the deadliest month for NATO in nine years of conflict, intensifying concerns about the conduct of the war.
An announcement by the US Department of Defence of the death of an American soldier on June 24 in the strife-torn western province of Farah took the toll for the year to date to 320, compared with 520 in all of 2009.
|A memorial to British soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan, at a patrol base in the Nahr e Saraj, Helmand on June 28, 2010. AFP|
AFP's figures are based on a tally kept by the independent icasualties.org website.
The Defence Department said 20-year-old Private Robert Repkie of Tennessee had died on June 24 of "injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident" that was under investigation.
A spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said 81 international troops had been killed in combat so far in June.
He said 12 troops had died of non-combat related causes. The remainder, who are not counted by ISAF, had died of injuries after returning home for treatment.
No NATO troops deaths were reported in Afghanistan on Monday, the spokesman said, adding: "A rare good day for us this month."
The previous highest monthly toll was last August, at 77.
The United States and NATO have 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, set to peak at 150,000 by August in an effort to quell the intensifying war against the hardline Islamist Taliban.
The sacking last week of US General Stanley McChrystal for insubordination has concentrated concerns about the progress being made in bringing the insurgency under control.
His replacement, US General David Petraeus -- due to take up the post on July 4, according to military officials -- arrives to enormous pressure as casualties rise and Western public opinion continues to turn against the war.
The head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, also acknowledged at the weekend that there were "serious problems" with the Afghan war.
"We're dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency," he said.
Lack of action in cleaning up endemic official corruption is seen as an obstacle to progress, as many ordinary Afghans distrust the government the West is fighting to prop up.
On Monday, a senior US lawmaker angrily blocked billions of dollars for Afghanistan, vowing not to extend aid until President Hamid Karzai fulfills pledges to act against corruption.
Representative Nita Lowey, who sits on the powerful committee in charge of the budget, said: "I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that US taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists."
President Barack Obama's administration requested 3.9 billion dollars in aid for Afghanistan in the 2011 fiscal year starting in October, an aide said.
While much of the anti-Taliban effort is concentrated on the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar -- the Taliban heartland -- a major offensive is under way in the border region of Kunar province, according to ISAF.
It said in a statement Sunday that more than 600 ISAF and Afghan troops were pursuing Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Kunar and that "a number of insurgents" had been killed.
Two US troops were also killed, ISAF said, though there was no immediate update Tuesday.
The Washington Post reported that up to 150 Taliban insurgents had been killed in battles along the Kunar border with Pakistan.
The US-led operation, which began Sunday, was one of the largest yet in the region around Kunar province, said the newspaper, citing US officials as calling it "one of the most intense battles of the past year" in Afghanistan.
NATO has said the dramatic upswing in casualty numbers has been caused by the alliance stepping up military operations and taking the fight to the Taliban in areas where the Islamist militia has previously been unchallenged.
The heavy toll can be largely attributed to the Taliban's use of homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are cheap and easy to make and account for the majority of foreign troops deaths.
The United Nations reported this month that IED attacks had risen by 94 percent in the first four months of this year, compared to the same period in 2009.