updated 1:50 p.m. PT, Thurs., Aug 27, 2009
KABUL - A roadside bomb and gunfire attack killed a U.S. service member in southern Afghanistan on Thursday, a death that pushed August into a tie with July as the deadliest months of the eight-year war.
The death brought to 44 the number of U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan this month with four days left in August.
More than 60,000 U.S. troops are in the country — a record number — to fight rising insurgent violence. The number of roadside bombs deployed by militants across the country has skyrocketed, and U.S. forces have moved into new and deadlier areas this summer, in part to help secure the country's Aug. 20 presidential election.
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The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan released his new counterinsurgency strategy Thursday, telling troops that the supply of militants is "effectively endless" and that U.S. and NATO forces need to see the country through the eyes of its villagers.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal said troops "must change the way that we think, act and operate." McChrystal hopes to install a new approach to counterinsurgency where troops will make the safety of villagers the top priority, above killing an endless supply of militants.
"An insurgency cannot be defeated by attrition; its supply of fighters, and even leadership, is effectively endless," the new guidelines said.
When U.S. and NATO troops battle a group of 10 militants and kill two of them, the relatives of the two dead insurgents will want revenge and will likely join the insurgency, the guidelines say, spelling out the formula: "10 minus 2 equals 20 (or more) rather than 8."
"This is part of the reason why eight years of individually successful kinetic actions have resulted in more violence," McChrystal said.
He called on troops to think of how they would expect a foreign army to operate in their home countries, "among your families and your children, and act accordingly," to try to win over the Afghan population.
Wave of attacks
Violence is on the rise in Afghanistan even as it falls in Iraq, where nearly twice as many U.S. troops are still based. Five U.S. troops have died in Iraq this month, three fewer than in July.
A statement from the NATO-led force in Kabul said the U.S. service member died in southern Afghanistan when a patrol responded to the bombing and gunfire attack. No other details were released. Militants unleashed a wave of attacks in southern Afghanistan last week that helped suppress voter turnout there.
Afghan election officials have released two batches of vote tallies that show President Hamid Karzai with 44.8 percent of the vote and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah with 35.1 percent, based on returns from 17 percent of polling stations. The next partial results are expected Saturday.
Meanwhile, U.S. and Afghan forces battled Taliban militants at a medical center in eastern Afghanistan after a Taliban commander sought treatment there, and a U.S. helicopter gunship fired on the clinic after militants put up resistance.
Reports of the militant death toll from Wednesday's firefight varied widely. The spokesman of the governor of Paktika province said 12 militants died, while police said two were killed. It wasn't clear why the tolls differed.
The fighting began after a wounded Taliban commander sought treatment at a clinic in the Sar Hawza district of Paktika. Afghan forces went to the center and got in a firefight with militants. U.S. forces later provided backup.
Hamidullah Zhwak, the governor's spokesman, said the Taliban commander was wounded Aug. 20. Militants brought him and three other wounded Taliban to the clinic Wednesday. Afghan forces were tipped off to their presence and soon arrived at the scene, he said.
Chopper blasts medical clinic
Insurgent snipers fired from a tower near the clinic, and troops called in an airstrike from U.S. forces, Zhwak said. Fighting between some 20 militants and Afghan and U.S. forces lasted about five hours, and 12 Taliban were killed, he said.
"After ensuring the clinic was cleared of civilians, an AH-64 Apache helicopter fired rounds at the building ending the direct threat and injuring the targeted insurgent in the building," a U.S. military statement said.
A U.S. military spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, said the clinic's doctor gave U.S. troops permission to fire on the clinic. After the battle, Afghan and U.S. forces met with villagers and discussed rebuilding the clinic, a U.S. summary of the meeting said.
Villagers expressed "disgust" that militants used the medical center to fire from and that they understood that the action by Afghan and coalition forces was necessary, the summary said.
Seven insurgents — including the wounded commander — had been detained, the U.S. statement said.
Gen. Dawlat Khan, the provincial police chief, said two militants died in the encounter.