Roadside bombs killed five NATO troops in eastern Afghanistan on Friday, as 100 aid groups warned that violence in the country was spreading to once-stable regions and hindering humanitarian efforts.
The soldiers' deaths marked a bloody start to the month in what's already been a deadly year for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, where a Taliban-led insurgency is raging nearly seven years after their fundamentalist Muslim regime was ousted in a U.S.-led invasion.
Four of the NATO soldiers and a civilian died in Kunar province Friday, the alliance said in a statement. The fifth soldier death was in Khost, another eastern province. The alliance did not release the nationalities of the soldiers. However, most of the troops in those areas are American.
British Royal Navy Captain Mark Windsor, a NATO spokesman, expressed sympathy for the families of those who died.
Aid group: Violence is spreading
The Taliban-led insurgency is particularly strong in Afghanistan's south and east, but a statement Friday by the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief noted that violence is now reaching other provinces, even those bordering the capital, Kabul, such as Logar and Wardak.
"Insecurity has spread to areas which were previously relatively stable in parts of north, northwest and central Afghanistan," it said.
Drawing on other recent reports, it said "aid organizations and their staff have been subject to increasing attacks, threats and intimidation, by both insurgent and criminal groups."
It cited a group that advises aid agencies on security that recently reported there were 2,056 insurgent attacks in the six months through June, a 52 percent increase from the same period of 2007. The report from the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office also said that 19 aid workers have been killed so far this year, compared to 15 in all of 2007.
ACBAR said initial estimates suggest more than 260 civilians were killed in July alone, higher than any other month in the last six years.
The statement also said that in the south violence has forced the closure of a large number of schools and health facilities, and "has caused significant levels of internal displacement."
It noted that parts of Afghanistan are experiencing "severe drought" and that food prices are rising as well, adding to the hardships of an already impoverished population.
"Increasing and spreading insecurity is jeopardizing the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to these people and threatening their lives and livelihoods," the statement said.
Aleem Siddique, a top U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, agreed that "the humanitarian challenge in Afghanistan continues to grow" but insisted that "we need the continued support of NGOs and the international community if we are to prevent further suffering."
"It is imperative that they remain committed to Afghanistan," Siddique said. "The needs of its people cannot be met by the government and the U.N. alone."
Growing civilian death toll
The groups involved in ACBAR also expressed concern about the impact of violence on civilians, and noted that airstrikes by international forces were adding to the civilian casualty toll.
1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a U.S. military spokesman, responded Friday, "Coalition forces make every effort to minimize the risk of any damage, injury or loss of life to noncombatants."
An Associated Press count based on accounts from Afghan and Western officials indicates that more than 2,700 people — most of them militants — have died in insurgency-related violence this year.
In other recent violence, five police were killed — and two others were wounded — in southern Kandahar province's Panjwayi district when a roadside bomb ripped through their vehicle on Thursday, according to district police official Bismullah Khan.