Insurgent attacks across Afghanistan have killed three US and two NATO soldiers as well as seven Afghan policemen and soldiers, authorities said Sunday, in a bloody start to election month.
The deaths of the five troops in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force comes after four others were killed on Saturday in attacks already announced by ISAF, as violence surges ahead of the August 20 polls.
The three US soldiers were part of a patrol struck by a homemade bomb and then ambushed with gunfire in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, ISAF said.
"The patrol responded to the attack but three service members died in the engagement," its statement said.
ISAF, made up of around 64,500 troops from 42 nations, does not release the nationalities of its casualties but the US military in Kabul said the three were from its ranks.
Two more ISAF troops were killed when two bomb blasts struck their patrol in the south on Saturday, the alliance announced separately. They were not US nationals, the US military said, without being able to identify them.
"Yesterday was a very tough day for ISAF as we lost more brave soldiers who were striving to provide security to the Afghan population," the force said.
Seventy-five international troops were killed last month, most of them in attacks, according to the independent www.icasualties.org website, making July the deadliest month for troops since the US-led invasion in 2001.
There are more than 100,000 international troops in Afghanistan deployed under NATO and a separate US-led coalition trying to tackle mounting violence from the Taliban-led insurgency.
|US Marines of 1st Combat Engineer Battalion take a break during a patrol in Nawa district in Helmand Province on August 1|
The troops have intensified operations against insurgent strongholds in preparation for the war-scarred nation's second-ever presidential elections.
Also on Saturday, a dozen rebels were killed in a gunfight with police in the southwestern province of Nimroz, the interior ministry said.
The battle broke out when insurgents attacked a police post, it said, adding police suffered no casualties.
On the same day, four Afghan soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb planted by "terrorists" in the southern province of Helmand, the defence ministry said.
And three policemen including a senior officer were killed when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the northern province of Baghlan, the ministry said separately.
President Hamid Karzai, leading a field of 41 candidates for the top job, visited the province Saturday for his first campaign rally outside Kabul.
The unrest has raised concerns that the rebels might attack the election, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan where the insurgency is its most intense.
The Taliban, the main insurgent group behind the Al-Qaeda-supported insurgency, has called on Afghans to boycott the presidential vote and vowed to block all roads a day before polling stations open.
The growing unrest nearly eight years after the Taliban were driven out of government has prompted Afghanistan's main military allies, the US and Britain, to review their efforts here.
An influential committee of British lawmakers charged Sunday that the international military mission in Afghanistan had delivered "much less than it promised" due to the lack of a realistic strategy.
In a report, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said without a clear strategy stabilising Afghanistan had become "considerably more difficult than might otherwise have been the case."