KABUL, Afghanistan – NATO announced Friday that six more U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan, bringing the death toll for July to at least 66 and surpassing the previous month’s record as the deadliest for American forces in the nearly 9-year-old war.
In Kabul, police fired weapons into the air to disperse a crowd of angry Afghans who shouted “death to America,” hurled stones and set fire to two vehicles after an SUV, driven by U.S. contract employees, was involved in a traffic accident that killed four Afghans, according to the capital’s criminal investigations chief, Abdul Ghaafar Sayedzada.
The contractor, DynCorp International, confirmed that its employees, working on a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, were involved in an accident on the airport road. In a statement, DynCorp said that when its employees got out of their vehicle, they and other DynCorp employees, who arrived at the scene to help, were attacked by the crowd, which burned their vehicles.
“Our condolences go out to the families of those who were killed or injured,” DynCorp said. “An investigation is under way.”
People at the scene said foreigners fired shots, killing and wounding Afghan civilians. DynCorp said the contractors fired no shots and that Afghan police helped move the contractors to safety away from the crowd. Hospital officials said the deaths and injuries were caused by the traffic accident.
Afghan police, some carrying riot shields, converged on the area, firing warning shots into the air to disperse the protesters. Sayedzada said the crowd burned two foreigners’ vehicles, causing heavy black smoke to rise from the scene.
“It is our right to raise up our voice and protest when innocent Afghans are harmed,” said Azizullah, a 25-year-old student, who like many Afghans uses one name.
Ahmad Jawid, who also was at the scene, asked: “Are we not Muslims? Are we not from Afghanistan? Infidels are here and they are ruling us. Why?”
A fatal traffic accident caused by a U.S. military convoy in 2006 triggered an anti-American riot in Kabul that left at least 14 people dead and dozens injured.
A NATO statement Friday said one service member died following an insurgent attack and two others were killed in a roadside bombing the same day in southern Afghanistan. A U.S military official confirmed all three were American troops.
Earlier in the day, a U.S. military official confirmed three other American service members died in two separate blasts in southern Afghanistan on Thursday.
The six deaths raised the U.S. death toll for the month to at least 66, according to an Associated Press count. June had been the deadliest month for the U.S. with 60 deaths. There have been 264 U.S. service members killed in combat and noncombat situations so far this year in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, according to the AP.
U.S. and NATO commanders had warned casualties would rise as the international military force ramps up the war against the Taliban, especially in their southern strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan last December in a bid to turn back a resurgent Taliban.
British and Afghan troops launched a new offensive Friday in the Sayedebad area of Helmand to try to deny insurgents a base from which to launch attacks in Nad Ali and Marjah, the British military announced. Coalition and Afghan troops have sought to solidify control of Marjah after overrunning the poppy-farming community five months ago.
The American deaths this month include Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley from Kingman, Arizona, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, 25, from the Seattle area. They went missing last week in Logar province south of Kabul. McNeley’s body was recovered Sunday, and Newlove’s body was pulled from a river Wednesday evening, Afghan officials said.
Senior military officials in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the sailors were never assigned anywhere near where their bodies were found.
Newlove’s father, Joseph Newlove, told KOMO-TV in Seattle he was baffled why his son had left the relative safety of Kabul. “He’s never been out of that town. So why would he go out of that town? He wouldn’t have,” he said.
New York Times reporter David Rohde was kidnapped in Logar in 2008 while trying to make contact with a Taliban commander. Rohde and an Afghan colleague escaped in June 2009 after seven months in captivity, most spent in Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Elsewhere, violence continued Friday.
Four Afghan civilians were killed and three were injured when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Zabul province of southern Afghanistan, provincial spokesman Mohammed Jan Rasoolyar said. When police arrived at the scene, Taliban fighters opened fire. One insurgent was killed, the spokesman said.
In Kandahar, a candidate in September’s parliamentary election escaped assassination Friday when a bomb planted on a motorcycle exploded, city security chief Fazil Ahmad Sherzad said. The Interior Ministry said a woman and a child were killed and another child was wounded.