June 28, 2010 / 12:30 PM / 10 years ago

Afghan campaign steps up in bloodiest month of war

KABUL (Reuters) - The deaths of four Norwegian soldiers in a roadside bomb attack brings to around 100 the number of foreign troops to die in Afghanistan in June, the bloodiest month since the insurgency started in 2001.

The rise in casualties puts pressure on governments which have contributed to the 150,000 strong, U.S.-dominated force just as Washington has changed its top field commander and at the start of a push against the Taliban in their spiritual heartland.

Not including the latest five deaths reported by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the website icasualties.org said 95 service members had died in Afghanistan in June, bringing 2010’s total to 315.

Last year was the bloodiest for foreign forces since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, with 521 ISAF service members killed in action or accidents. Over 1,850 have died in total.

The previous bloodiest month for ISAF forces was August last year, when 77 died.

Other organizations have slightly different tallies, but Lieutenant Commader Iain Baxter, an ISAF spokesman, said: “Regardless of the toll ... we feel each of these losses very much.”

The rise in casualties comes as Washington’s new strategy for Afghanistan is gearing up despite being hit by U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision last week to replace his overall commander in Afghanistan with General David Petraeus, architect of the Iraq war turnaround.

The counter-insurgency strategy aims to take on the Taliban where they are strongest, in their Kandahar spiritual homeland, and boost security simultaneously with a push for improved civilian governance and development.

This strategy was inevitably likely to lead to an initial increase in casualties, ISAF officials said.

“We have more forces in the whole country in closer contact with the population and the enemy,” Baxter said.

Petraeus, as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, was widely credited with turning the tide there with a similar strategy when sectarian violence verged on civil war.

There have been increasing doubts among U.S. lawmakers about Obama’s six-month-old troop buildup strategy against the resurgent Taliban, and some critics are skeptical of Obama’s pledge to start bringing U.S. forces home by July 2011.

Other countries have also already planned or are planning their exits.

Writing by David Fox; Editing by Sugita Katyal

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