Afghan president accuses security companies of “blasts and terrorism” as he reiterates plan to ban them by year end.
|A total of 2,170 Nato soldiers have been killed since the 2001 US-led invasion that toppled the Taliban [GALLO/GETTY]|
The number of foreign soldiers who have died in the Afghanistan war this year has crossed the 600 mark, with Nato disclosing the death of a soldier in an attack in the country’s east.
Monday’s statement did not provide further details of the death, which occurred a day earlier. The 600 figure compares with 521 in all of 2009, according to an AFP tally based on a count kept by the icasualties.org website.
A second Nato soldier was killed on Sunday in a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan, considered the Taliban heartland.
The Taliban’s armed campaign has traditionally been fiercest in the country’s south and east, along the border with Pakistan.
A total of 2,170 Nato soldiers have been killed since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan which overthrew the Taliban government, including almost 1,350 US troops.
The US and Nato have more than 150,000 soldiers in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, which is at its most intense in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
International and Afghan forces are currently engaged in a major offensive around Kandahar city – capital of the province of the same name – aimed at pushing the fighters out of the area to bring an end to the nine-year war.
In July, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor group said 2010 has been the most violent in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.
In the first six months of this year, the UN mission in Afghanistan documented 1,271 Afghan civilian deaths and 1,997 injuries. Taliban and other anti-government elements were responsible for 76 per cent of all casualties.
Of the deaths, 223, or 18 per cent, were attributed to pro-government forces, including Nato-led forces.
|Troop deaths since 2001|
The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office said 1,862 civilians were killed in the first three quarters of the year. The group said the percentage of deaths attributed to international military forces has been steadily dropping from 28 per cent in 2008 to 16 per cent in 2010.
An Afghan official said on Monday that 25 Taliban had been killed in a Nato air attack in Helmand. Nato confirmed the raid and said initial reports indicated that there were no civilian casualties.
Amid the developments, the US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan has said that an increasing number of Taliban leaders are showing interest in talks with the US-backed government in Kabul.
“What we’ve got here is an increasing number of Taliban at high levels saying, ‘Hey, we want to talk’,” Richard Holbrooke said in an interview with CNN on Sunday.
“We think this is a result in large part of the growing pressure they’re under from General [David] Petraeus and the Isaf command.”
But he cautioned that the feelers so far add up to “contacts and discussions” rather than peace negotiations to end a war now in its 10th year.
The New York Times reported last week that Taliban leaders were being offered safe passage by Nato troops from their sanctuaries in Pakistan, and in one case were flown to Kabul in a Nato aircraft.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has set up a High Council for Peace to pursue a dialogue with the Taliban and other anti-government groups.