July and August deadliest of Afghan war for US

44 troops died this month Pentagon unveils new strategy

Marine Corporal Russell paid his respects yesterday to Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard at a memorial service in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Bernard was mortally wounded during a Taliban ambush Aug. 14. Marine Corporal Russell paid his respects yesterday to Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard at a memorial service in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Bernard was mortally wounded during a Taliban ambush Aug. 14. (Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)
By Jason Straziuso
Associated Press / August 28, 2009

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KABUL - A roadside bomb and gunfire attack killed a US service member in southern Afghanistan yesterday, a death that pushed August into a tie with July as the deadliest months of the eight-year war.

The death brought to 44 the number of US troops who have died in Afghanistan this month with four days left in August.

More than 60,000 US troops are in the country - a record number - to fight rising insurgent violence. The number of roadside bombs deployed by militants across the country has skyrocketed, and US forces have moved into new and deadlier areas this summer, in part to help secure the country’s Aug. 20 presidential election.

The top US commander in Afghanistan released his new counterinsurgency strategy yesterday, telling troops that the supply of militants is “effectively endless’’ and that US and NATO forces need to see the country through the eyes of its villagers.

General Stanley McChrystal said troops “must change the way that we think, act, and operate.’’ McChrystal hopes to install a new approach to counterinsurgency where troops will make the safety of villagers the top priority, above killing an endless supply of militants.

“An insurgency cannot be defeated by attrition; its supply of fighters, and even leadership, is effectively endless,’’ the new guidelines said.

When US and NATO troops battle a group of 10 militants and kill two of them, the relatives of the two dead insurgents will want revenge and will probably join the insurgency, the guidelines say, spelling out the formula: “10 minus 2 equals 20 (or more) rather than 8.’’

“This is part of the reason why eight years of individually successful kinetic actions have resulted in more violence,’’ McChrystal said.

He called on troops to think of how they would expect a foreign army to operate in their home countries, “among your families and your children, and act accordingly’’ to try to win over the Afghan population.

Violence is on the rise in Afghanistan even as it falls in Iraq, where nearly twice as many US troops are still based. Five US troops have died in Iraq this month, three fewer than in July.

A statement from the NATO-led force in Kabul said the US service member died in southern Afghanistan when a patrol responded to the bombing and gunfire attack. No other details were released. Militants unleashed a wave of attacks in southern Afghanistan last week that helped suppress voter turnout there.

Afghan election officials have released two batches of vote tallies that show President Hamid Karzai with 44.8 percent of the vote and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah with 35.1 percent, based on returns from 17 percent of polling stations. The next partial results are expected tomorrow.

Meanwhile, US and Afghan forces battled Taliban militants at a medical center in eastern Afghanistan after a Taliban commander sought treatment there, and a US helicopter gunship fired on the clinic after militants put up resistance.

Reports of the militant death toll from Wednesday’s firefight varied widely. The spokesman for the governor of Paktika Province said 12 militants died, while police said two were killed. It wasn’t clear why the tolls differed.

The fighting began after a wounded Taliban commander sought treatment at a clinic in the Sar Hawza district of Paktika. Afghan forces went to the center and got in a firefight with militants. US forces later provided backup.

Hamidullah Zhwak, the governor’s spokesman, said the Taliban commander was wounded Aug. 20.

Militants brought him and three other wounded Taliban to the clinic Wednesday. Afghan forces were tipped off to their presence and soon arrived at the scene, he said.

Insurgent snipers fired from a tower near the clinic, and troops called in an airstrike from US forces, Zhwak said. Fighting between some 20 militants and Afghan and US forces lasted about five hours, and 12 Taliban were killed, he said.

“After ensuring the clinic was cleared of civilians, an AH-64 Apache helicopter fired rounds at the building, ending the direct threat and injuring the targeted insurgent in the building,’’ a US military statement said.

A US military spokeswoman, Lieutenant Commander Christine Sidenstricker, said the clinic’s doctor gave US troops permission to fire on the clinic. After the battle, Afghan and US forces met with villagers and discussed rebuilding the clinic, a US summary of the meeting said.