KABUL — A roadside bomb killed two U.S. service members in southern Afghanistan on Saturday as the country’s top NATO commander acknowledged an increased risk to foreign troops will accompany an influx of reinforcements aimed at routing the Taliban.
The deaths brought to at least 22 the number of American service members killed so far this month — compared with only 14 for the whole of January last year. A mild winter has brought no respite to the fighting, which traditionally drops off during the cold months.
The south is the Taliban heartland and is expected to be a major focus of fighting as the U.S. and NATO allies send 37,000 additional troops to turn the tide of the war.
“The end state of the mission is to protect the population and isolate the insurgency in a way where it doesn’t constitute a threat to the Afghan government,” Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said Friday during a visit to the western command. “This will not happen in a short period or in an easy way. It’s realistic to expect an increase of risk to coalition forces.”
Also Saturday, militants kidnapped a district police chief, Jamtullah Khan, and two other officers on a nighttime foot patrol near the eastern border with Pakistan — the latest in a series of attacks against Afghan officials.
Gen. Khalilullah Zaiyie said reinforcements had been sent to help with a search for the three men, who were seized in the Shigal district of Kunar province just after 1 a.m.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but Zaiyie blamed Taliban militants who are active in the area.
It occurred a day after the governor of Wardak province escaped an assassination attempt when his convoy struck a roadside bomb, killing four Afghan soldiers and wounding another. Gov. Halim Fidai, who was unharmed, was on his way to inspect a school after meeting with elders in Jagatu district.
Two armed men, including a local Taliban commander, were arrested as they tried to flee the scene, according to the governor’s spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, who also was in the convoy.
In other violence, militants hiding among demonstrators fired on police Saturday, sparking a gunbattle in the middle of a protest over the deaths of four men in a NATO-Afghan raid, officials said. At least two people were wounded.
NATO and Afghan police have said the four killed late Wednesday were insurgents, but villagers in the Qara Bagh district in Ghazni province insist they were civilians.