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Roadside bombs kill 7 U.S. troops in Afghanistan

Two separate roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan killed seven U.S. service members in southern Afghanistan Monday, NATO said.
Image: A U.S. Army helicopter takes off carrying wounded soldiers, injured in a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Monday (?AP)
A U.S. Army helicopter carries soldiers injured in a roadside bombing in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Monday.Allauddin Khan / AP
/ Source: msnbc.com news services

Two separate roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan killed seven U.S. service members in southern Afghanistan Monday, NATO said.

The deaths bring to 14 the number of U.S. troops killed in action in eastern and southern Afghanistan over the past three days.

A spike in U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan to over 120,000 has brought increased fighting and a rising death toll. Forty-nine U.S. service members have died in Afghanistan this month.

The troops killed Monday were serving with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the alliance said.

One roadside bomb attack killed five troops, while a separate incident killed an additional two, ISAF said in a statement.

No additional details were given of Monday's attacks, although eyewitnesses in the southern city of Kandahar told the Associated Press that an armored U.S. Army Humvee hit a roadside bomb in the early afternoon.

Several bodies were seen being removed from the vehicle, which was on fire.

Attack on Afghan officialsTo the east in Nangarhar province, the head of Lal Pur district, Syad Mohammad Palawan, was killed when a bomb planted on his vehicle exploded as he was driving into a government compound to attend a meeting of provincial security and political leaders, said police spokesman Ghafor Khan.

Insurgents apparently planned for the bomb to explode inside the compound in the provincial capital Jalalabad where it could potentially have caused far greater destruction, Khan said.

Three of Palawan's bodyguards were wounded, Khan said, while the Interior Ministry put the figure at five.

The attack followed a failed assault on two coalition bases in nearby Khost province Saturday, in which more than 30 insurgents were killed. The attacks indicate that militant activity is rising in parts of the east, as coalition forces focus resources on Kandahar and other Taliban strongholds in the south.

Security in eastern Afghanistan is critical because the region includes the capital, Kabul, which the insurgents have sought to surround and isolate from the rest of the country. Jalalabad also lies just 35 miles west of the Pakistan border, where militants maintain safe havens from which to plan attacks and infiltrate foreign fighters linked to al-Qaida across the rugged mountains.

Afghanistan is also preparing for a parliamentary election next month, viewed as a test of stability in the country that has seen violence rise to its highest levels in the nine-year war.

Poor security, particularly in Taliban strongholds in the south and east, already looms as the biggest challenge to the ballot, along with corruption and fraud.

Sunday, unidentified gunmen killed five campaign workers for a candidate in next month's poll. Four candidates have also been killed in recent weeks, drawing sharp criticism from the United Nations, which is assisting with the election.

'Serious need' for altered strategy
Shutting down militant sanctuaries has been a key demand of the government of President Hamid Karzai, who on Saturday renewed his criticism of coalition strategy in fighting Afghanistan's stubborn insurgency — part of a pattern of greater outspokenness by the Afghan leader as he appeals for support among the beleaguered Afghan public.

In a meeting with visiting German Parliament Speaker Norbert Lammert, Karzai said there was a "serious need" to alter strategy against the Taliban and other groups linked to al-Qaida, the presidential office said.

"There should be a review of the strategy in the fight against terrorism, because the experience of the last eight years showed that the fight in the villages of Afghanistan has been ineffective apart from causing civilian casualties," Karzai was quoted as saying in a news release.

Thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed as they are caught up in the crossfire between militants and coalition forces. Civilian deaths were up by 31 percent in the first six months of this year, according to a United Nations report.

Karzai has in the past argued Afghan forces should take the lead in operations to root out insurgents and win support from deeply conservative villagers who harbor a long tradition of suspicion of outsiders. He says personal contact between coalition forces and villagers only breeds resentment, although most Afghan police and soldiers are drawn from northern Uzbeks and Tajiks who are ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Pashtuns who make up the core of Taliban support.

Last week, Karzai also criticized the U.S. plan to begin withdrawing troops starting next July and said the fight against terrorism cannot succeed as long as the Taliban and their allies maintain safe havens in Pakistan.

Karzai's comments contradict statements from coalition commanders that an increase in the total number of foreign forces to more than 140,000 has turned the momentum of recent Taliban advances.