By David Nakamura
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 11:14 PM
Five of the troops were slain Tuesday, including four who were killed by two improvised bombs in the east and one who died in an insurgent attack in the south, according to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The deaths brought the number of U.S. troops killed in August to 55, according a count by the Associated Press - significantly fewer than the 66 who died last month and 60 in June. Roadside bombs along military routes have been responsible for most of the deaths, as international forces penetrate deeper into areas controlled by Taliban insurgents.
Also Tuesday, gunmen opened fire on a bus in Kabul carrying employees of the Afghan Supreme Court, killing three and wounding several others, ISAF officials said.
Asked by The Washington Post about the jump in U.S. deaths in recent days, James Judge, an ISAF spokesman, responded via e-mail: "Historically, August usually yields somewhat higher numbers as it tends to be the insurgents' last push before the winter months. With elections coming up, the numbers may remain somewhat elevated through September. Additionally, the troop surge has increased troop totals to approximately 147,000. With these additional forces, we are actively pursuing the enemy in areas traditionally held by insurgents."
Judge noted that despite the bloodshed of the past few days, "overall for August, deaths due to IEDs are well under last year's figures."
In an interview with NATO TV, Gen. David H. Petraeus said Tuesday that international forces have made some gains but that insurgents still control parts of the country, especially in the south.
"I would not say we have reversed the momentum in all areas by any means," he said. "In some we have reversed it, in some we have blunted it, in some, perhaps, the Taliban are still trying to expand."
The violence, including a spike in civilian casualties caused largely by more aggressive action from insurgents, has prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to challenge the United States to significantly alter its war strategy. In particular, he has pushed U.S. and NATO forces to root out insurgents in their hideouts in Pakistan, limit night raids on the homes of Afghans and remove international troops from everyday interactions with civilians, leaving those to Afghan forces.
In a statement over the weekend, Karzai said that "the strategy of the war on terrorism must be reassessed. . . . The experience over the past eight years showed that fighting [the Taliban] in Afghan villages has been ineffective and is not achieving anything but killing civilians."