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Roadside bomb kills four Marines

Convoy attacked while on patrol in western Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan – Four U.S. Marines were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy in western Afghanistan on Thursday, the latest attack amid escalating violence ahead of a presidential election here later this month.

The death toll among American forces is rising as thousands of additional troops move into Taliban strongholds. At least 15 NATO troops have died so far this month, putting August on pace to surpass July, when 75 U.S. and allied troops were killed, the highest monthly toll for Western soldiers in Afghanistan since the war began in late 2001.

The U.S. military did not immediately release details of Thursday’s explosion.

Meanwhile, in the southern province of Helmand, where U.S. Marines have launched a major offensive, officials said Thursday that at least four members of an Afghan family driving to a wedding the day before were killed when their tractor struck a land mine.

Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Helmand governor, said the explosion killed two women and two children, while two other women suffered injuries and were taken to a NATO base for treatment. In a separate incident elsewhere in Helmand on Thursday, a bombing killed five policemen and injured three others, he said.

“The Taliban is the enemy. They are doing their best to disrupt the election” Ahmadi said. “Of course there will be more violence as we get closer.”

Jandad Spinghar, an official with the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, a monitoring group, said that security around election facilities has deteriorated in recent days.

Between July 17 and Aug. 3, he said, his organization tallied 12 violent incidents targeting candidates, election offices and monitors. At least three provincial council candidates have been assassinated, he said, adding that in several districts, it will be “severely challenging” to open polling stations on election day.

Also Thursday, the U.S. military was investigating Afghan claims that civilians were killed when a U.S. attack helicopter fired on people in the Arghandab district of Kandahar province early Thursday morning. The military said in a statement that the helicopter fired after the crew spotted four suspected insurgents in an open field, “with weapons and plastic jugs,” at 1:30 a.m. There were further allegations that four other civilians were killed in a compound nearby.