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Eight U.S. soldiers killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan

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By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

KABUL -- October became the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan when two bombs killed eight soldiers and an interpreter in separate attacks Tuesday.

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This time of year typically brings a decline in violence as insurgents regroup with cold weather approaching. Instead, the bloodiest days this month have displayed both the range of threats American soldiers face and the persistent danger of the most basic weapons.

Soldiers have died in a lone outpost in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan that was nearly overrun by more than 100 insurgents firing rockets and grenades. They have been killed in gun battles and in crashing helicopters. And they died Tuesday in Kandahar province in a dismayingly familiar way: by homemade bombs buried in the road.

Tuesday's violence again showed an inability to protect against the type of explosives that killed the most Americans in Iraq and are killing the most here, too. This year has already surpassed any other in Afghanistan in U.S. military deaths, and the rising toll poses urgent problems for the Obama administration as it attempts to fashion a new war strategy. Fifty-four U.S. troops died in October, surpassing the previous high of 51 in August, according to iCasualties.org.

Early Wednesday, violence erupted in central Kabul as Afghan forces exchanged gunfire with militants holed up inside a private guesthouse where United Nations workers stay. The Taliban, through a spokesman, asserted responsibility for the attack on the guesthouse, which lasted more than an hour.

At press time, there were contradictory reports from local authorities and the United Nations on casualties among U.N. staff. An Afghan army general said all the attackers were dead.

Top U.S. military commanders have said they need thousands of reinforcements to beat back the resurgent Taliban, but President Obama has said he does not want to rush a decision to send more troops. His advisers have in recent weeks debated the way forward in Afghanistan, while the military has conducted war games to test the effect of thousands of additional troops.

"I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary," Obama told a military audience in Jacksonville, Fla., on Monday. "And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt."

Senior military officials said the higher fatality rate would not have a major impact on the strategy debates. They said casualties, which often spike as troops push into enemy-controlled areas, generally were a poor measure of how things were going in Afghanistan. The higher fatality rate, however, could have an impact in Congress, where Obama faces skepticism about whether more troops will make a substantial difference.

"Every lawmaker gets notified each time someone from their home state gets killed," said Richard Fontaine, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former aide to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "The real costs of these wars enter into the decision-making process of these lawmakers."

He said the higher fatality rate also increases the pressure on Obama to make the case that success in Afghanistan is worth the increased cost in lives.

The deadliest of Tuesday's two bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, exploded in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province. It blew up an eight-wheeled Army vehicle known as a Stryker. The early morning blast killed seven soldiers and an interpreter and seriously wounded another soldier, U.S. military officials said.


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