KABUL, Afghanistan — In a summer of suffering, America's military death toll in Afghanistan is rising, with back-to-back record months for U.S. losses in the conflict. All signs point to more bloodshed in the months ahead, straining the already shaky international support for the war.
Six more Americans were reported killed in fighting in the south — three Thursday and three Friday — pushing the U.S. death toll for July to a record 66 and surpassing June as the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the nearly nine-year war.
U.S. officials confirmed the latest American deaths Friday but gave no further details. Five of the latest reported deaths were a result of hidden bombs — the insurgents' weapon of choice — and the sixth to an armed attack, NATO said in statements.
U.S. commanders say American casualties are mounting because more troops are fighting — and the Taliban are stiffening resistance as NATO and Afghan forces challenge the insurgents in areas they can't afford to give up without a fight.
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"Recent months in Afghanistan have... seen tough fighting and tough casualties. This was expected," the top U.S. and NATO commander, Gen. David Petraeus, said at his Senate confirmation hearing last month. "My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months."
That forecast is proving accurate.
The month has brought a sharp increase in the images of war — medics frantically seeking to stop the bleeding of a soldier who lost his leg in a bombing, fearful comrades huddled around a wounded soldier fighting for his life, the solemn scenes at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware when relatives come to receive the bodies of their loved ones.
After a dip in American deaths last spring following the February capture of the southern town of Marjah, U.S. fatalities have been rising.
American troop strength stands at about 95,000, and by the end of August the figure is expected to swell to 100,000 — three times the number in early 2009. Commanders say more boots on the ground inevitably mean more casualties.