Ten foreign soldiers and nine private security contractors were killed in a series of separate insurgent attacks across Afghanistan on June 7 -- the bloodiest period so far this year for international forces in the country.
Meanwhile, two more NATO soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan on June 8. The nationalities of the soldiers were not revealed.
The violence underscores that Taliban militants are now able to carry out multiple attacks across Afghanistan rather than focusing all of their energy in just one part of the country.
It also highlights the Taliban leadership's rejection of an Afghan peace jirga last week that sought to foster peace talks with insurgents by offering economic and other incentives for militants to lay down their weapon and join peace talks. The Taliban leadership has publicly shunned the offer -- branding Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a U.S. puppet and saying there will be no talks while foreign troops are in Afghanistan.
Death Toll Is Significant
The June 7 death toll is significant because it is the result of simultaneous insurgent operations in the south, east, and central parts of Afghanistan.
There have been days with higher death tolls for foreign troops in Afghanistan since late 2001. But such days have previously been the result of aircraft crashing with large numbers of soldiers onboard.
Half of the NATO deaths -- five U.S. soldiers -- occurred in a single blast in eastern Afghanistan where U.S. and Afghan troops have been battling a concentrated force of Taliban fighters. U.S. and Afghan troops had just last week recaptured strongholds from the Taliban in the Barg-e Matal district of Nuristan Province near the border with Pakistan.
Two other U.S. soldiers were killed in separate attacks in the south -- one by a bombing and the other by small-arms fire.
NATO says its other casualties on June 7 were the result of militant attacks in the east and south. The French government says one of its sergeants in the French Foreign Legion was killed by a rocket in Kapisa Province to the northeast of Kabul. Three other legionnaires were wounded by the same rocket.
'Hard Day In Theater'
Lieutenant General David Hurley, the acting commander of Australia's defense forces, confirmed that two Australian soldiers also were killed during what he described as "a hard day in theater."
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke in Canberra about the deaths of the Australian soldiers, saying, "It's a sobering reminder that we are up against a determined and dangerous enemy."
Private security contractors also are facing an increase in Taliban attacks across Afghanistan. A U.S. contractor who was training Afghan police was killed on June 7 along with a Nepalese security guard by a brazen suicide attack on a police station in Kandahar.
The Afghan Interior Ministry, meanwhile, says five Afghan private security guards were killed by a roadside bomb in Ghazni Province. It says two other Afghan guards also were killed in separate gun battles against insurgents in other parts of Ghazni Province.
U.S. commanders have warned of more casualties as NATO gears up for what journalists have described as a major military operation to secure Kandahar, the former headquarters of the Taliban and the largest city in southern Afghanistan.
'Not An Event'
But NATO's top military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan recently that counterinsurgency operations already are under way as part of NATO's Kandahar campaign.
"In fact, a number of things have begun," McChrystal said. "Because people are looking for conventional military operations, they don't sometimes see what is happening. We are increasing our partnership inside Kandahar city with the Afghan National Police. We are developing a ring of security around the city with Afghan National Civil Order Police, and then we are increasing Afghan National Army and coalition force activities in the environs or districts around the city.
"This will be a very gradual process -- not an event. So it will take months to happen. But that security will continue to improve with each passing day."
Last December, President Barack Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops be sent to Afghanistan to try to stem a resurgent Taliban. With the last of those troops now being deployed, the Obama administration essentially has shifted the focus of the U.S. campaign against Islamist terror from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Some military experts say it is natural to expect more NATO casualties in Afghanistan simply because there are more troops there than ever before. But the sheer number and geographic range of Taliban attacks on June 8 suggests that insurgents also are bolder now than in years past.
with agency reports