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NATO Chief Seeks More Troops For Afghanistan

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen (right) during a visit with Afghan lawmakers in Kabul on August 7.
KABUL (Reuters) -- NATO's new chief has called for additional reinforcements in Afghanistan, and the alliance announced the deaths of eight more U.S. and British troops as violence worsens in the eight-year-old war's deadliest phase.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen's open call for more troops was perhaps the clearest indication yet that a major escalation ordered this year by new U.S. President Barack Obama is far from over.

"Honestly speaking, I think we need more troops," Rasmussen, who took over as head of the trans-Atlantic alliance this month, said during his first visit to Kabul.

"I have seen progress in the south [of Afghanistan], not least thanks to the increase in the number of troops, so definitely the number matters," he told BBC radio.

There are now more than 100,000 Western troops in Afghanistan, including about 62,000 Americans -- nearly double the U.S. strength at the start of the year as Obama has sent tens of thousands to turn the tide in a war that was not being won.

In neighboring Pakistan, officials said they believed that country's Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, had been killed in a missile strike, a major coup in the fight against the militant movement that has roots in tribes on both sides of the border.

But an Afghan Taliban spokesman said Mehsud's death would have no effect on its fight on the Afghan side of the frontier, because the organizations are not directly linked.

Four American troops were killed by a roadside bomb in an area to the west August 6. Another U.S. soldier was killed by insurgent fire in the east of the country on August 7.

Three British soldiers from the Parachute Regiment were killed on August 6 when they were ambushed with a roadside bomb and gunfire in Helmand, the southern province where U.S. and British forces launched the war's biggest operations last month.

The deaths brought the toll for the first week of August to 19 Western troops, on pace to match the previous month, the war's deadliest by far for foreign forces, when 76 died.

More Western troops have died in Afghanistan since the beginning of March than in the entire period from 2001-04.

Attacks already at their worst since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 have increased ahead of an August 20 presidential election, which the Taliban vow to disrupt.