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Four U.S. soldiers killed by roadside bomb in Afghanistan

The incident in the country's dangerous eastern region bordering Pakistan pushes the American death toll in July to 30.

July 21, 2009|Laura King

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A roadside bomb killed four American soldiers in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, adding to the toll in what has already been the conflict's deadliest month for Western forces. The latest deaths push the number of coalition troops killed in July to at least 55 -- 30 of them American.

U.S. military officials have forecast a bloody summer in Afghanistan, in part because thousands of newly arrived American troops are pushing into areas previously controlled by the Taliban.

A major military offensive spearheaded by the U.S. and Britain is underway in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province. But the eastern region bordering Pakistan's volatile tribal areas has been one of the country's most dangerous places in recent weeks. It is also the sector where a U.S. soldier was captured by insurgents on June 30.

American officials denounced the use of the abducted serviceman for propaganda purposes after the Taliban over the weekend released a video of its captive, in which he was seemingly prompted to call for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

It is relatively rare for as many as four soldiers to be killed by a single improvised explosive device. But insurgents have been using increasingly sophisticated tactics in the manufacture and planting of the roadside bombs, which account for about 70% of combat casualties.

Military authorities on Monday also disclosed the death of a British soldier a day earlier in southern Afghanistan. The sharply rising number of British combat fatalities -- 16 so far this month -- has triggered intense debate in Britain, the second-largest partner in NATO's International Security Assistance Force. The slain British soldier was on foot patrol in Helmand province's Sangin district, considered an insurgent stronghold.

Intensifying combat in large swaths of the country has put Afghan civilians in peril as well. Afghan officials said Monday that 11 civilians were killed the previous day when their van struck a roadside bomb in a remote area of Farah province, which borders Iran. The dead included a mother and child, provincial officials said. A second explosion hit would-be rescuers.

An additional three civilians were killed when German troops in the northern province of Kunduz on Sunday opened fire on a pickup truck they said was approaching a checkpoint at high speed. Such shootings -- known in military terminology as "escalation of force" incidents -- have been relatively rare in the country's north.

Afghanistan has also seen a highly unusual run of aviation accidents in recent days. In the most recent, a British fighter jet crashed just after takeoff Monday at Kandahar airfield, the alliance's main hub for operations in the south. The crew managed to eject safely. Officials from the NATO-led force said they had ruled out insurgent fire in the crash of the Royal Air Force GR-4 Tornado.

On Saturday, a U.S. F-15E went down in eastern Afghanistan, killing its two-member crew, and on Sunday a Russian-made helicopter carrying civilian contractors crashed just after lifting off from Kandahar airfield. Sixteen people were killed and five injured in that crash, the second in less than a week involving a Russian-made helicopter operated by a company working under contract to Western forces.

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laura.king@latimes.com

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