KABUL — Bombings in the country's tinderbox south killed five American service members on Saturday, four of them in the same blast, military officials said.
Multiple troop deaths in a single incident are becoming more common as insurgents plant larger numbers of homemade bombs and as the explosive payload of these crude weapons increases.
For Western troops in Afghanistan, IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, pose the greatest threat to life and limb. That is despite a major Pentagon push this year to reduce such casualties with better technology, more training and what military officials describe as greater cooperation from Afghan villagers in pointing out where buried bombs are.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force, which announced the latest deaths, did not specify where they occurred. American troops are heavily concentrated in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, both longtime Taliban strongholds.
Both provinces have been the focus of large-scale military efforts this year. A long-delayed operation in and around Kandahar city, the urban hub of the south, is finally gathering momentum.
In announcing Saturday's fatalities, the NATO force did not release the nationalities of the five dead, but U.S. officials confirmed all were Americans.
U.S. troop deaths have reached their highest levels of the nine-year war. Last month a record 60 Americans were killed in Afghanistan; the most recent fatalities bring the tally for July to more than 50.
American military officials attribute the spiking casualty tolls to a nearly completed "surge" that has brought U.S. troop levels in the country to nearly 100,000, and to the fact that the arriving forces are pushing into previously insurgent-controlled areas.
The Taliban say, though, that the Western military, for all its power and prowess, will always be vulnerable to IEDs, sniper fire and small-scale ambushes -- the hallmarks of asymmetrical warfare.
Life is more dangerous these days for Afghan civilians as well. Campaigning is under way for parliamentary elections that are to be held in mid-September, and many candidates have received death threats from insurgents. As always, large public gatherings are perilous.
Authorities in Khost province, in eastern Afghanistan, said Saturday that a parliamentary candidate had died as the result of a bomb blast that occurred as he delivered a speech in a crowded mosque on Friday, the main prayer day of the Muslim week.
The explosion injured about 20 other people. The candidate, identified as Sayedullah Sayed, was badly hurt in the bombing, and later died of his wounds, hospital officials said.