Taliban militants killed three American troops in volatile southern Afghanistan, U.S. military authorities said Tuesday, part of a recent wave of violence that could complicate next week’s Afghan elections.
The latest U.S. deaths brought to at least 18 the number of American military personnel who have died in Afghanistan in August, and pushed fatalities among foreign troops for the month to 27, according to the independent website icasualties.org.
The burgeoning violence also claimed the lives of at least nine Afghan civilians and two Afghan soldiers, Afghan officials said. Afghan authorities also reported the deaths of 22 insurgents in two clashes late Monday.
Western military officials have moved away from estimating the numbers of militants killed, saying such a “body count” does not reflect the coalition’s main priority of keeping Afghan civilians safe.
Afghans are to vote Aug. 20 in presidential and provincial assembly elections. But there are fears that the turnout may be low in areas most affected by violence, including the south and east. About a dozen voting districts are considered outside government control.
Military officials provided few details about the latest American deaths, other than to say all were the result of “hostile fire incidents” and took place over a three-day period beginning Saturday. In general, military authorities try to avoid giving out information -- the effectiveness of an insurgent rocket attack on a particular outpost, for example -- that they believe could help the militants plan future attacks.
Also Tuesday, Western military officials disclosed the death a day earlier of a Polish soldier during a joint patrol with Afghan troops in eastern Afghanistan. Most of the coalition troops serving in Afghanistan’s east are Americans, but there is a small Polish contingent. The area is most vulnerable to infiltration by fighters based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas, which are just on the other side of the frontier.
An American soldier captured by the Taliban in eastern Afghanistan on June 30 is still missing despite a huge manhunt, and the commander holding him is believed to lead attacks in Afghanistan but use a base in Pakistan.
It has been a costly summer for foreign forces in Afghanistan. July was the worst month to date in the nearly 8-year-old conflict in terms of military deaths; 76 coalition soldiers were killed, including 45 Americans. Most of the violence has been concentrated in a swath of the country’s south -- provinces including Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol and Oruzgan.
Helmand has been the scene of a large-scale, nearly 7-week-old offensive by U.S. Marines. Although the American force of about 4,000 suffered few casualties in its initial push into a far-flung territory formerly held by insurgents, Taliban fighters have been able to kill at least 16 Marines in small-scale but lethal attacks such as roadside bombings and ambushes of foot patrols.
Another dangerous area has been Kandahar province, where the forces deployed include American, British and Canadian troops. A roadside bombing in Zhari district, considered a Taliban stronghold, killed nine civilians Tuesday, provincial officials said. Most of the roadside bombs planted by insurgents are meant to target foreign forces, but they also kill Afghan motorists.
Roadside bombs also have accounted for the bulk of casualties among the Afghan security forces. The Afghan government said Tuesday that two Afghan soldiers had been killed by a roadside bomb in Zabol province.