Five NATO troops killed as Afghanistan violence soars

KABUL Sun Nov 14, 2010 12:36pm EST

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KABUL (Reuters) - Five troops serving with the NATO-led force in Afghanistan were killed on Sunday, including three in a clash with insurgents in the east, the coalition said, one of the worst daily tolls in a month.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) gave no other details about the clash in the east, including the nationalities of those killed. The majority of troops serving in the volatile east are American.

Earlier on Sunday, ISAF said two of its soldiers had been killed in separate explosions in the south.

The deaths send a sobering message to NATO leaders holding a summit later this week in Lisbon with Afghanistan top of the agenda. Many European NATO leaders are under increasing pressure to justify their continued support for the drawn-out war.

U.S. President Barack Obama is set to review his Afghanistan war strategy in December amid sagging public support, after his Democratic party suffered a mauling in mid-term elections.

Violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban nine years ago, with civilian and military casualties at record levels despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops.

The Washington Post newspaper reported on Sunday that Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants the U.S. military to reduce its visibility and the intensity of its operations in Afghanistan and end the use of night raids.

Such raids incite Afghans to join the insurgency, he said.

"The time has come to reduce military operations," Karzai told the Post in an interview. "The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan ... to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life."

Obama plans to begin withdrawing some U.S. troops from July 2011, and Karzai has set 2014 as the target for Afghanistan to take over complete security responsibility from foreign forces. About 100,000 of the foreign troops in Afghanistan are American.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week that they viewed Karzai's 2014 plan as a realistic goal.

CIVILIAN, MILITARY TOLL GROWS

The five casualties on Sunday were the worst suffered by ISAF since October 14, when eight of its troops were killed in five separate incidents.

At least 642 ISAF troops, about 440 of them American, have been killed in Afghanistan in 2010, by far the deadliest year of the war. Three were killed on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the fall of the Taliban in Kabul.

The spike in violence is largely a result of increased NATO operations against the Taliban-led insurgency, and U.S. and NATO commanders have been talking up recent successes.

Acceptance of the need for a negotiated settlement is growing among NATO members, amid tentative steps toward peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders.

However, insurgents have also stepped up attacks against Afghan and foreign targets in recent weeks.

On Saturday, Taliban fighters attacked a NATO base at the main airport in Jalalabad, the latest in a series of incidents across the country over the previous 24 hours.

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict, and civilian casualties caused by foreign forces hunting militants have long been a major source of tension between Karzai and Washington and led to a falling-out last year.

Also on Sunday, ISAF said one Afghan child had been killed inadvertently and one wounded by artillery fire. The wounded child was taken to an ISAF hospital for treatment.

An ISAF patrol had come under fire in the Zharay district of southern Kandahar province, a Taliban stronghold, and returned fire with artillery, the coalition said.

"Our thoughts and concerns are with the families of this terrible accident," U.S. Army Colonel Rafael Torres, an ISAF spokesman, said in a statement.

In a mid-year report, the United Nations said civilian casualties had risen 31 percent in the first six months of 2010 from the same period last year, with more than three quarters of the deaths blamed on insurgents.

In contrast, deaths attributed to "pro-government" forces -- Afghan and foreign troops -- fell sharply, the U.N. report said, largely because commanders had tightened engagement rules, particularly the use of air strikes and night raids.

(Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Susan Fenton)