WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The threat from roadside bombs in Afghanistan is rising, the U.S. Army’s top general said on Thursday, underscoring concern about what has become the biggest killer of NATO troops in the war.
General George Casey, U.S. Army chief of staff, said more than 60 percent of the roughly 400 attacks last week in Afghanistan were the result of roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.
“The (roadside bomb) threat in Afghanistan is increasing. There is no question about that,” Casey told reporters.
Data released by the Pentagon showed 1,059 IED incidents in April, one of the highest monthly numbers on record and more than double the amount in April 2009.
A Pentagon report to Congress released last week confirmed that IEDs continue to cause the most military casualties in Afghanistan and are central to the Taliban’s strategy.
“The overall Afghan insurgent strategy going into 2010 is to counter (NATO) expansion and cause casualties to international partner forces with the expanded use of IEDs and suicide bombings,” the Pentagon report said.
The bombs killed 18 troops last month, up three-fold from the same month last year. So far this year, IEDs have killed 99 coalition forces in Afghanistan and wounded 785 others.
U.S. military commanders have said an increase in Taliban attacks and coalition casualties should be expected as the United States ramps up the war effort, including a 30,000 troop surge ordered by President Barack Obama.
But a sharp spike in U.S. and NATO casualties could erode support for the more than 8-year-old war and undermine Washington’s efforts to get more troops from allies to train Afghan forces.
In response to the IED threat, the Pentagon has ramped up purchases of blast-resistant all-terrain vehicles produced by Oshkosh Corp as well as eyes-in-the-sky surveillance aircraft to spot bombs and the militants laying them.
Total attacks against coalition forces — including IEDs — between September 2009 and March 2010 increased by about 83 percent in comparison to the same period a year earlier, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Bill Trott