KABUL, Afghanistan – Coalition airstrikes killed 22 militants who were attacking two towns in eastern Afghanistan, and explosions killed two more foreign soldiers in the south, officials said Wednesday.
Fighting between Taliban-led militants and security forces is surging, clouding hopes that the six-year, multibillion-dollar effort to stabilize the country will succeed any time soon.
The U.S.-led coalition said Afghan police called for help when insurgents armed with rockets and guns attacked government offices in the Sarobi and Gomal districts of Paktika province on Tuesday night.
"When coalition air support arrived, the 22 militants who attacked the district centers were positively identified and killed," a coalition statement said.
Ghamai Khan Mohammadyar, spokesman for the provincial governor, said police had counted the bodies of 22 "enemy fighters" on the battlefield. He said no Afghan forces were killed and claimed that the surviving militants had fled toward the Pakistani border.
More than 2,000 people have died in insurgency related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally, many of them militants slaughtered by U.S. warplanes responding to skirmishes on the ground.
Outgunned militants are falling back on Iraq-style guerrilla tactics, including roadside bombings.
The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said Tuesday that attacks in the east of the country have increased 40 percent this year over 2007.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser told reporters in Washington that troops are tracking "a syndicate" of militants including Taliban, Al Qaeda, Pakistanis and Afghans who move back and forth over the Afghan-Pakistani border.
On Wednesday, the coalition said one of its troops died and three others were wounded when a bomb hit a vehicle on a combat operation in Helmand province.
Several militants were killed and a dozen more detained during clashes that included airstrikes the previous day in the province's Reg district, it said.
One NATO soldier also died in Helmand when an explosion hit a patrol in Nahri Sarraj district on Tuesday, the alliance said. The nationalities of the two dead troops were not released.
A total of 111 foreign troops have now died in Afghanistan this year, including 36 so far this month — a faster monthly pace than in Iraq, where 23 have died so far in June.
As well as planting bombs and launching suicide attacks, militants have regularly assailed civilian convoys carrying supplies to military bases.
Also on Wednesday, Britain's defense ministry in London said that a British soldier was killed by an explosion in Afghanistan's Helmand province.
The soldier from the 4th Battalion Parachute Regiment was checking for land mines when he was killed by a suspected roadside bomb Tuesday in the Upper Sangin Valley.
The death announced Wednesday brings to 108 the number of British troops to die in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.
The paratrooper is the 11th British soldier killed in Afghanistan this month. Seven were members of the Parachute Regiment, including another soldier killed Tuesday in a firefight with the Taliban.