KABUL, Afghanistan – U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered their first combat deaths of the new year, the military reported Monday, with four troops killed a day earlier in the country’s violent south.
The battlefield losses came as Afghan President Hamid Karzai faced a fresh political confrontation, ordering parliament to put off its winter recess and vote on a new Cabinet lineup as soon as this weekend. On Saturday, lawmakers defied the president by rejecting two-thirds of his Cabinet picks.
Western officials are worried about the weakness of the Karzai government as the Obama administration embarks on a troop buildup that will nearly double the American military presence in Afghanistan. Karzai is also under pressure to form a government before a conference of international donors in London beginning Jan. 28.
As the first of 30,000 new U.S. troops begin flowing into the country, adding to some 68,000 already deployed here, Western commanders have warned that a commensurate increase in casualties is likely. That is in part because the additional American forces will push into parts of the country that were previously under the sway of the Taliban and other insurgents.
In 2010’s first reported battlefield deaths, military officials said four American troops had been killed in a roadside bomb in the south. A British soldier was also killed in a separate explosion.
Roadside bombs are the No. 1 killer of Western forces in Afghanistan, and have become the signature weapon of the Taliban and other insurgents. Multiple fatalities in a single incident, such as the strike that killed the four Americans, have become commonplace, because members of the Taliban are using larger and more powerful improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, capable of destroying armored vehicles and killing most or all of those inside.
The military did not say where the latest U.S. deaths occured, but most Americans in the south are based in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where the Taliban movement is strongest. Those provinces are also a center of Afghanistan’s drug trade, which has close links to the insurgency.
Most of the arriving reinforcements are to be deployed in the south, where thousands of U.S. Marines have been trying to secure a key swath of the Helmand River valley. Other U.S. troops are working to quell a rising insurgent presence around the city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual center.