NATO says four American service members have been killed in a roadside bombing in western Afghanistan.
The deaths Thursday drive the number of Western forces killed in Afghanistan in August to at least 15, a pace that could make the month the deadliest for the U.S. and NATO in the nearly eight-year war.
At least 44 U.S service members and 31 from other international military forces were killed in July, according to military reports.
Casualties among Afghans and international troops are climbing sharply as Western forces push into Taliban territory ahead of Aug. 20 presidential elections. Most violence takes place in the south and east, the traditional bases of the ethnic Pashtun insurgents. But the Taliban has also been ramping up attacks in the relatively calmer west and north.
Earlier, roadside explosions and a U.S. airstrike killed at least 15 people across southern Afghanistan, including members of a family who hit a mine on their way to a wedding party, local officials said Thursday.
The family was traveling in a tractor with a trailer through the Garmser district Wednesday morning when they hit a mine laid in the road, Helmand province police Chief Assadullah Sherzad said.
Mounting violence kills police, farmers
Sherzad initially reported that 21 people were killed but told The Associated Press that his officers in the district later said five people were killed and five wounded.
A spokesman for the governor of Helmand province, Daud Ahmadi, said the driver of the tractor was killed along with his wife, two children and another woman. Two other women were wounded, Ahmadi said.
Afghan officials also said a roadside bomb killed five police officers and wounded three police in Helmand province Thursday.
And a police chief in a neighboring province said a Western airstrike Wednesday night killed five farmers loading cucumbers into a taxi. A U.S. spokeswoman said the men were militants placing weapons into a van.
Casualties among Afghans and international troops are climbing sharply as Western forces push into Taliban territory ahead of Aug. 20 presidential elections. The U.S. and NATO have said protecting civilians is their highest priority.
Some 4,000 U.S. Marines moved last month into the district where the family was killed to secure roads and population centers ahead of the vote. The insurgents have pledged to disrupt the election and have dramatically increased their use of roadside bombs against foreign and Afghan forces.
Civilians caught in crossfire
A U.S. Apache helicopter opened fire Wednesday night in neighboring Kandahar province when it spotted men it believed to be loading weapons into a van, said Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, a U.S. spokeswoman.
District police Chief Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi said the five were farmers trying to move cucumbers from the rural Zhari district to the city of Kandahar.
It is common for farmers to work at night in southern Afghanistan's blazing summer temperatures. Insurgents also plant bombs and move weapons in darkness, although U.S. aircraft can monitor them using night-vision equipment.
"We watched the guys loading small arms into a van for an hour before firing on it, Sidenstricker said. "Our information is that they were loading munitions not cucumbers," she said. Sidenstricker said the military planned to release video taken from the helicopter during the incident.
The U.S. military also reported that one of its service members had been killed Wednesday by a roadside bomb in western Afghanistan, the 11th Western service member killed this month.
July was the bloodiest month for the U.S. and NATO in the nearly eight-year war. At least 44 U.S service members and 31 from other international military forces were killed, according to military reports.