Afghan war's deadliest month
Kabul - A total of 100 foreign soldiers fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan have died in June, the deadliest month for Nato in nine years of conflict, intensifying concerns about the conduct of the war.
An announcement by the US Department of Defence of the death of an American soldier on June 24 in the strife-torn western province of Farah took the toll for the year to date to 320, compared with 520 in all of 2009.
AFP's figures are based on a tally kept by the independent icasualties.org website.
A spokesperson for Nato's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said 81 international troops had been killed in combat so far in June.
He said 12 troops had died of non-combat related causes. The remainder, who are not counted by ISAF, had died of injuries after returning home for treatment.
No Nato troops deaths were reported in Afghanistan on Monday, the spokesperson said, adding: "A rare good day for us this month."
The previous highest monthly toll was last August, at 77.
Sixteen people, including civilians and policemen, were also killed in separate attacks blamed on the Taliban over 24 hours, police said on Tuesday.
140 000 troops
Seven Taliban fighters were also killed after ambushing a police convoy in the western Farah province, police said.
The United States and Nato have 140 000 troops in Afghanistan, set to peak at 150 000 by August in an effort to quell the intensifying war against the hardline Islamist Taliban.
The military alliance also said on Tuesday that the search for an American serviceman kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan a year ago remains a "top priority" for US-led Nato forces.
Since Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, 24, went missing from his base in southeastern Afghanistan on June 30 2009, the Taliban has issued three videos of him visibly shaken, pleading for the US government to win his release.
The sacking last week of US General Stanley McChrystal for insubordination has concentrated concerns about the progress being made in bringing the insurgency under control.
His replacement, US General David Petraeus - due to take up the post on July 4, according to military officials - arrives to enormous pressure as casualties rise and Western public opinion continues to turn against the war.
The head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, has also acknowledged "serious problems" with the Afghan war.
While much of the anti-Taliban effort is concentrated on the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar - the Taliban heartland - a major offensive is under way in the border region of Kunar province, according to Isaf.
It said in a statement Sunday that more than 600 Isaf and Afghan troops were pursuing Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in Kunar and that "a number of insurgents" had been killed.
Two US troops were also killed, Isaf said.
The Washington Post reported that up to 150 Taliban insurgents had been killed in battles along the Kunar border with Pakistan.
The US-led operation, which began on Sunday, was one of the largest yet in the region around Kunar province, said the newspaper, citing US officials as calling it "one of the most intense battles of the past year" in Afghanistan.
Nato has said the dramatic upswing in casualty numbers has been caused by the alliance stepping up military operations and taking the fight to the Taliban in areas where the Islamist militia has previously been unchallenged.
The heavy toll can be largely attributed to the Taliban's use of homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are cheap and easy to make and account for the majority of foreign troops deaths.
The United Nations reported this month that IED attacks had risen by 94% in the first four months of this year, compared to the same period in 2009.