U.S. Deaths Rise in Afghanistan

June Is Deadliest Month for Troops as Country Sees Taliban Resurgence

An American flag is folded in honor of Marine Pfc. Dawid Pietrek, 24, of Bensenville, Ill., during his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. The Polish immigrant was one of four Marines killed by a roadside bomb June 14 in Afghanistan's Farah province. Story, B3. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 2, 2008; Page A01

June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war there began in late 2001, as resilient and emboldened insurgents have stepped up attacks in an effort to gain control of the embattled country.

Defense officials and Afghanistan experts said the toll of 28 U.S. combat deaths recorded last month demonstrates a new resurgence of the Taliban, the black-turbaned extremists who were driven from power by U.S. forces almost seven years ago. Taliban units and other insurgent fighters have reconstituted in the country's south and east, aided by easy passage from mountain redoubts in neighboring Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.

The officials and experts said the spike in troop deaths should not be the only measure of the growing conflict in Afghanistan, but they acknowledged that the Taliban's persistent attacks on military units and civilians have frustrated U.S. and international efforts to help the Afghan government secure the country.

"What it points to is that the opposition is becoming more effective," said Barnett R. Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University. "It is having a presence in more areas, being better organized, better financed and having a sustainable strategy. In all, their strategic situation has improved."

Violence in rural areas controlled by the Taliban and in eastern provinces along the border with Pakistan has increased in recent weeks as insurgents have begun using more makeshift bombs, borrowing a tactic honed by insurgents in Iraq. According to top U.S. commanders, the number of violent incidents has risen nearly 40 percent during the first half of 2008 compared with last year.

The grim total surpassed the 27 troop fatalities in Afghanistan in June 2005. But that total included the 16 troops killed on a single day in a helicopter crash.

The 28 U.S. troops were killed by roadside bombs, small-arms fire and rocket attacks and in unspecified combat operations. The total nearly equaled the 29 announced U.S. troop deaths last month in Iraq, where violence has abated in the wake of the buildup of U.S. forces that began last year.

There have been 533 U.S. combat deaths to date in Operation Enduring Freedom, which includes Afghanistan and other areas. About 32,000 American troops are stationed in Afghanistan, along with about 30,000 from other countries. The United States has 145,000 troops in Iraq, according to the Defense Department.

British troops also experienced one of their worst months for combat fatalities since the invasion of Afghanistan, with 13 killed in June.

Although the summer traditionally brings increased fighting in Afghanistan, where mountainous terrain becomes more passable, Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, have called the past month a particularly difficult time.

The department's first congressionally mandated report on Afghanistan last week predicted increased violence throughout 2008. U.S. and international forces are fighting both an entrenched Taliban and extremist groups, including al-Qaeda, that are using Pakistani tribal areas to recruit and train fighters before sending them across the border.

Defense officials point to the situation in Pakistan as a central problem. As the Pakistani government has reduced pressure on militants in largely ungoverned tribal areas, insurgents have increased their movement and attacks.

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