Kabul: Five NATO soldiers were killed in separate bomb attacks in Afghanistan on Thursday, the alliance announced, bringing to 586 the total number of personnel killed so far this year.
The US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said three soldiers died in a single attack in western Afghanistan while the fourth and fifth died in two separate bomb blasts in the restive south and east.
The force released no further details and does not disclose the nationalities of soldiers killed as a matter of policy. There are American, Spanish, Italian and Lithuanian troops based in NATO contingents in the west. The Taliban insurgency against US-led NATO troops and the Afghan government is now in its deadliest year, having expanded steadily since the 2001 US-led invasion brought down their regime.
Six US soldiers were killed in attacks on Wednesday and four Italian soldiers in a single bombing in western Afghanistan last week. Thursday`s deaths brought to 586 the number of foreign soldiers killed this year, eclipsing the previous record of 521 in 2009. The AFP tally is based on a count by the independent website icasualties.org.
Bombs known as IEDs -- improvised explosive devices -- are the weapons of choice for the Taliban and other insurgents fighting the 152,000 foreign troops under US and NATO command now deployed in the country. The devices, responsible for the bulk of the military deaths, often kill Afghan civilians when they miss their military targets.
In a statement Thursday ISAF said 13 civilians had been killed in militant attacks over the past week, including nine who died in a single IED blast, without giving further details.
Western public opinion is growing increasingly tired of the war, angry over corruption within President Hamid Karzai`s government and mounting casualties as the conflict pushes into its 10th year. Italy on Wednesday became the latest NATO ally to detail plans to scale down its military presence and hand over territory to Afghan security forces by the end of next year.
Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said his government planned to hand over control of large parts of western Afghanistan to local authorities by the end of 2011, leaving only a mission to train the Afghan police and army.
Italy is the fifth largest contributor of foreign troops in Afghanistan, with a deployment of around 3,400. That number is expected to rise to around 4,000 by the end of this year, before the planned drawdown.
Canada, which is the sixth largest contributor of troops, has already said it intends to pull its estimated 2,830 troops out of the south in 2011. The surge in military deaths has followed the deployment of about 40,000 extra US and NATO troops under a White House strategy designed to clear major towns and cities of the Taliban and restore confidence in the government.
President Karzai has also redoubled efforts to patch up a deal with rebels who distance themselves from Al-Qaeda, inaugurating a High Council for Peace. But the council has been dismissed by critics as a collection of warlords.
A NATO official in Brussels said the alliance sometimes allowed Taliban fighters to travel to Kabul to hold talks with the Afghan government as part of efforts to support Karzai`s peace initiative. But the Taliban have always publicly denied that they are in talks.