Toll from Afghan clash rises to five, worst in six months


By Ian Simpson, Reuters

KABUL — The NATO-led force in Afghanistan on Monday raised the death toll from a weekend clash with insurgents in the volatile east to five, making it the deadliest attack on foreign troops in six months.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) initially said three of its troops had been killed in the clash with insurgents in the east, but on Monday it said the toll had risen to five.

A total of seven ISAF troops were killed on Sunday — a Dane and a Briton were also killed in explosions in the south — making it the worst single day for foreign troops since October 14, when eight troops were killed in five separate incidents.

Three more were killed on Saturday as violence spiked across Afghanistan with a string of attacks in the south, east, and north as well as the capital, Kabul.

The rising violence will send a sobering message when North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders meet from Friday in Lisbon. Afghanistan will top the agenda, with many European NATO leaders under pressure from an increasingly skeptical public to justify their support for the 9-year-old war.

The rising death toll also comes before U.S. President Barack Obama is set to review his Afghanistan war strategy in December amid sagging public support, and after Obama’s Democratic Party suffered a mauling in mid-term elections last week.

Violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in 2001. Civilian and military casualties are at record levels despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops.

The five ISAF troops killed on Sunday came under attack by insurgents in the east, ISAF said, but gave no more details such as the nationalities of those killed. Most troops serving in volatile eastern Afghanistan are American.

ISAF did not say where the clash took place but The Taliban said on their website the insurgents had been engaged in clashes with ISAF troops for several hours in eastern Kunar province.

Separately, the Taliban said its fighters had fired rockets at an ISAF base on Monday in Asadabad, the provincial capital of Kunar. A Reuters witness reported seeing flames and smoke rising from inside the base.

The five deaths in the east on Sunday were the highest military death toll in one incident since a suicide car bomber attacked an ISAF convoy in Kabul on May 18. Six troops, including five Americans, were killed, along with 12 Afghan civilians.

Around 645 foreign troops, about 440 of them American, have been killed in Afghanistan in 2010, by far the deadliest year of the war. At least 2,213 troops have been killed since the war started, according to monitoring website iCasualties.org.

The spike in violence is largely a result of increased NATO operations against the Taliban-led insurgency, and U.S. and NATO commanders have been talking up recent successes.

It also comes as acceptance of the need for a negotiated settlement grows, with tentative steps being made toward peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders.