Six NATO service members, including three Americans, were killed Monday in Afghanistan, making it the deadliest day for the international force in more than two months. The violence underscored warnings that casualties will increase as more foreign troops stream into the country and step up the fighting against the Taliban.
The Americans died in a firefight with militants during an "operational patrol" in southern Afghanistan, U.S. military spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said. He declined to provide on the exact location of the clash or their branch of service pending notification of family members.
The deaths raised to at least 10 the number of U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan so far this year, according to an Associated Press tally.
The French officer was killed during a joint patrol with Afghan troops in Alasay, a valley largely under insurgent control that NATO is trying to reclaim. Another French service member was seriously wounded in the attack some 50 miles northeast of Kabul. There were eight French troops in the patrol, said spokesman Col. Jacky Fouquereau.
NATO said another service member was killed in the clash but did not release the nationality. It said a sixth service member was killed by a roadside bomb in the south.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country has lost 37 troops in Afghanistan since 2001, condemned what he called "blind violence" and expressed his determination to keep his country's forces in the country.
The previous deadliest day for foreign forces was Oct. 27 when eight U.S. troops were killed. Seven CIA agents and a Jordanian intelligence officer also were killed by a suicide bomber on Dec. 30.
The year has gotten off to a particularly bloody start for the NATO-led force; last week, four Americans and one British service member were killed in a single day.
Officials said earlier Monday that bombs killed another American service member and two Afghan road construction workers in separate attacks Sunday in southern Afghanistan.
The southern half of the country, the Taliban heartland, has frequently been hit by attacks as the U.S. military builds up its presence in the area. Most of the 30,000 additional American troops that President Barack Obama has ordered to Afghanistan will be deployed there.
U.S. military officials have acknowledged that the insurgency has the momentum and warned that the troop buildup ordered by President Barack Obama is likely to lead to more casualties as the fight intensifies.
Despite the violence, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan,.
He cited as evidence of progress a meeting he recently held in a river valley in Helmand province, an area where the Taliban has been strong and one of the first targets of the surge.
"When I sit in an area that the Taliban controlled only seven months ago and now you meet with a shura of elders" - a traditional meeting - "and they describe with considerable optimism the future, you sense the tide is turning," he said during an interview aired Monday on ABC television.
The vehicle carrying the Afghan road crew hit a roadside bomb Sunday in the Nawa district in Helmand province, according to the Interior Ministry. It said two other workers were wounded.
The attack occurred a day after a British correspondent and a U.S. Marine were killed by a roadside bomb in the same area.
Sunday Mirror journalist Rupert Hamer, 39, was the first British journalist killed in the conflict.
Hamer and photographer Philip Coburn, 43, were accompanying a U.S. Marine patrol Saturday when their vehicle was hit by a makeshift bomb near the village of Nawa, the British Defense Ministry said. Coburn was seriously wounded.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday expressed condolences to Hamer's family as well as to the British media. Karzai said he appreciated the "brave journalists" who risk their lives in Helmand.
Obama has said U.S. troops will start withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011, and American and Afghan officials already are preparing for the transition.
The Afghan government has announced plans to take over the U.S.-run prison at the Bagram air base. No date has been set for the handover, but officials have said it could occur by the end of the year.
The U.S. military opened a new prison to replace the original facility, which was tainted by allegations of human rights abuses.
Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward, the commander of U.S. detainee operations in Afghanistan, said some prisoners could be held by the U.S. in so-called field detention sites after the handover, but they would be turned over to the Afghans upon request.
He also said the cases of several non-Afghans in U.S. custody would be reviewed. There are about 750 inmates at Bagram.
"Those will be all under Afghan operations and any U.S. detention will fall under that system," he said at a news conference.