This year already deadliest for troops in Afghanistan

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan — A roadside bomb that struck an American military convoy in southern Afghanistan on Tuesday killed four U.S. soldiers, breaking a threshold that makes 2009 the deadliest year — already — for international forces here since the war began in late 2001.

The attack occurred while the Americans were patrolling in Kandahar province, the U.S. military said, on the same day that a massive explosion struck Kandahar city, the result of explosive-laden vehicles detonating at once. The number of vehicles involved was not clear Tuesday night.

As many as 41 people were killed and at least 100 injured in that blast, which also destroyed dozens of buildings, including homes, provincial officials said.

“People in Kandahar haven’t heard an explosion like this in the past eight years,” said Khalid Pashtun, a member of the provincial parliament.

In recent months, President Barack Obama has sent tens of thousands of additional troops to southern Afghanistan, one of the most violent regions in the country, to try to quell a growing Taliban insurgency there.

Including the latest troop deaths, at least 172 American forces have died in the Afghan war this year, according to an Associated Press count.

The death toll for international troops in Afghanistan has risen every year since 2003, and U.S. military officials attribute this year’s rise to the strengthening Taliban insurgency coupled with the jump in the number of American forces battling them.

Unlike during the most violent days of the Iraq war, where the advent of a deadly new weapon — the bomb-propelled molten metal slugs that U.S. military officials said were imported from Iran — led to a rise in casualties there, the Taliban has not relied on new technology to inflict harm.

“It’s not the sophistication. That really hasn’t been a factor here,” said Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan. “Here you still are talking about very basic but very deadly IEDs — that’s the largest killer of the force.”

IEDs, or improvised exploding devices, is how the military refers to roadside bombs.

The Taliban is using these roadside bombs “indiscriminately,” Smith said, in attacks that also kill large numbers of Afghan civilians. He said the increased violence is a result of the Taliban, a predominantly Afghan conglomeration of insurgent groups working alongside other foreign fighters, exerting influence in a growing portion of the country.

“There is a growth in the number of individuals, most of which are assessed to be Afghans, which are fighting this fight,” Smith said. “When you combine that with the increase in forces pursuing that insurgency … we should all expect an increase in casualties, unfortunate as that is.”

There are now about 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, including 23,000 in the south, where Marines are involved in a major offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province.

During a trip this weekend to several military bases by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, American commanders told him they needed more troops to disrupt the Taliban. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, is nearing completion of an assessment of U.S. military strategy in the country that may lead him to request more soldiers on top of the recent increases.

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