WASHINGTON – Five U.S. Army soldiers and a U.S. Marine were killed in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan, military officials said Saturday, raising the U.S. death toll in the country to 108 in a year that has become the deadliest since the war began six years ago.
The six service members, who were serving as part of NATO’s peacekeeping mission, were on a foot patrol Friday with Afghan soldiers when they came under fire from small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, alliance officials said.
Three Afghan soldiers also were killed in the ambush, which NATO officials described as a complex attack that came from multiple positions.
The previous high for annual U.S. casualties came in 2005, when 99 were killed, according to icasualties.org, an independent group that monitors U.S. and coalition war deaths. Last year, 98 U.S. military personnel died as part of the Afghan mission.
The fatal ambush in Afghanistan came the same week in which 2007 became the deadliest year for U.S. forces in Iraq as well. In Iraq, however, American casualties have dropped dramatically the last four months.
In Afghanistan, violence has risen over the course of the year as a resurgent Taliban, which is believed to have rebuilt itself in bases along the Afghan-Pakistan border, has launched a series of attacks in eastern and southern provinces.
Last week, a rare suicide bombing in northern Afghanistan killed at least 68 people, including six lawmakers, in the deadliest such attack since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.
Senior military officials have said there have been waves of attacks around the key southern city of Kandahar, long a Taliban stronghold, including a major attack there earlier this month.
But at a Pentagon news conference Friday, before the latest U.S. deaths were made public, a top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said the number of such frontal attacks had been decreasing in recent months, even as the number of roadside bombs and suicide attacks were on the rise.
“The direct conflict that occurs, what we call ‘troops in contact,’ is actually decreasing as the Taliban suffers defeats,” said Army Brig. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., the officer in charge of training Afghan security forces.
The rash of violence in Afghanistan comes amid growing concern over the NATO-led mission there. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates repeatedly has called on European and other allies to do more to shore up the operation despite the fact that troop levels there are at all-time highs. There are approximately 54,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, about half of them American.