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U.S. toll in Afghanistan at record high in 2008

1/01/2009 - 10:19

KABUL (Reuters) - Foreign troops suffered their highest death toll in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2008, and with thousands more troops scheduled to be deployed, this year could be even worse.

Nearly 270 foreign soldiers, 127 of them Americans, were killed in combat in 2008, versus 169 foreign combat deaths in 2007, according to figures compiled by Reuters.

Hundreds more foreign soldiers were wounded in Taliban attacks last year, mostly involving roadside bomb blasts, which according to the U.S. ambassador, doubled to some 2,000 in 2008 from the previous year.

The Taliban, toppled in the U.S.-led invasion after the September 11 attacks, have regrouped and intensified the insurgency over the past three years. Last year, they began massing in larger forces to launch attacks in addition to carrying out ambushes and suicide missions.

In the latest incident, Taliban insurgents ambushed the convoy of a district chief Helmand province on Wednesday and killed 20 of his bodyguards, the provincial spokesman said. Helmand is a Taliban stronghold and one of the main drug-producing regions of Afghanistan, the world's biggest source of opium.

In August, just outside the capital Kabul, 10 French soldiers were killed in an ambush, the biggest single loss for foreign forces since the start of their military campaign in Afghanistan.

Some 70,000 foreign troops, nearly 30,000 of them Americans, serve under NATO and the U.S. military's command in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon plans to send more than 20,000 extra U.S. troops, comprising combat forces, an aviation brigade and support units, to Afghanistan over the next 12 to 18 months.

But unlike the Iraq surge, billed as a temporary boost to get a grip on sectarian attacks, U.S. commanders say higher troop levels in Afghanistan are needed probably for years to defeat the Islamist insurgency.

A Taliban spokesman said the war was imposed on Afghanistan and Afghans would try to win it through any military means.

"History is a witness that we have increased our attacks on puppet government of President Hamid Karzai and its foreign backers every year, and that trend will continue," Qari Mohammad Yousuf said.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Bill Tarrant)


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