By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 31, 2010; A06
KABUL -- With the deaths of six troops on Thursday and Friday, July has become the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the nearly nine-year-long war in Afghanistan.
The three killings on Friday came in a manner and location that has typified the recent increase in violence. NATO officials said that two of the American service members died in a roadside bombing and that the other was killed in a separate insurgent attack. Both assaults occurred in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency is strongest. Rudimentary bombs, often made from fertilizer, are a favored weapon of the Taliban and the predominant killer of U.S. troops.
The six deaths over two days pushed the U.S. death toll to 66, surpassing the record in June, when 60 American troops were killed. The overall death toll for NATO forces in July is still below the record reached in June, when 103 NATO troops were killed.
With the buildup of 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers this year, American commanders have predicted a spike in casualties as they push into Taliban strongholds where there has been little coalition presence in the past. The most violent time in Afghanistan is typically summer, when the Taliban is not hampered by cold weather in the mountains and can go on the offensive.
But there also has been a steady growth in the size and potency of the insurgency. U.S. and Afghan officials estimate that the number of Taliban fighters exceeds 30,000. Insurgents have spread beyond their traditional havens in southern and eastern Afghanistan in recent years and now hold considerable power elsewhere in the country, particularly in the once-peaceful north.
A senior NATO official said one-third to one-half of the 82 districts around the country that NATO considers crucial to the war are now under insurgent influence.
The tension inherent in such a war zone escalated into an angry protest in downtown Kabul on Friday, as police fired to disperse a crowd that set fire to two vehicles after a traffic accident killed four Afghan civilians, according to Afghan officials.
The outburst occurred on the road leading from Kabul's airport, near the traffic circle named for the guerrilla commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, directly outside the U.S. Embassy. It started when an SUV driven by American contractors struck a car carrying the four Afghans, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy.
The protesters chanted "Death to America" and threw rocks, the Associated Press reported.
The embassy statement said the American contractors "cooperated immediately with local Afghan Security Forces after the incident."
"Our sympathies go out to the families of those Afghans injured or killed in this tragic accident," the statement said.