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U.S. fears higher toll in Afghanistan

KABUL – U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have risen to 65 so far this year, up from 36 over the first five months of 2008 – though U.S. and coalition troops have also killed hundreds more militants, an Associated Press tally shows.

As newly arriving Marines enter the violent Afghan south – the spiritual home of the Taliban and the country’s major drug-producing region – the military said Tuesday that U.S. deaths will likely increase even further this summer.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure the deaths occur on the militants’ side, but there is a potential there will be an increase in U.S. deaths,” said Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan.

In Washington, the U.S general chosen to take over as commander of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan said he believes the war is “winnable, but I don’t think it will be easily winnable.” Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal said at his confirmation hearing that avoiding civilian casualties is key to success.

Civilian deaths, long a contentious issue in Afghanistan, are also higher this year because of militant attacks and U.S. and NATO operations. The latest U.S. death came Tuesday during an insurgent attack in the east that killed one soldier.

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