KABUL – Four NATO service members — including one American — were killed in action Monday, the deadliest day for the international force in more than two weeks.
Combat deaths are still running at higher levels than in recent years even through the traditional winter fighting lull and despite talk of peace overtures to the Taliban and their allies.
The American service member, who was not identified, died in a roadside bombing in southern Afghanistan, the NATO command announced.
Two British soldiers also died in bomb blasts during a foot patrol in the south, the main theater of the war. The British Ministry of Defense said the soldiers were attacked near Malgir, in Helmand province.
Spain's Defense Ministry said one Spanish soldier was killed and six were wounded when their vehicle struck a bomb while escorting a U.N. relief convoy near Qali-i-Naw, 340 miles west of Kabul
That made Monday the deadliest day for the allied force since Jan. 13, when four American service members were killed in three separate attacks around the country.
At least 36 NATO service members, including 30 Americans, died in Afghanistan in January, compared with 23 alliance service members during the same month in 2009 and 13 NATO troopers in the first month of 2008.
That reflects the increased tempo of the war since the expansion of the Taliban and President Barack Obama's decision to shift the focus of the U.S. effort from Iraq to Afghanistan. The U.S. and its allies are sending 37,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan to try to break the Taliban momentum and shore up the government of President Hamid Karzai.
Despite the stepped-up pace of the war, Karzai unveiled a plan in London last week to lure fighters from the insurgency through jobs and homes and to reach out to the leadership of the Taliban and their allies.
The Taliban leadership has rejected talks until the U.S. and its allies set a firm date for their departure and has denied reports that representatives of the insurgents met with a senior U.N. official last month.
On Monday, the Afghan official spearheading the reconciliation program said the government was involved in talks with extremist groups on multiple levels, but there were no comprehensive negotiations under way yet.
However, Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai told reporters the government is in regular contact with Taliban factions.
"There were some contacts, and the contacts will continue," Stanekzai said. "We have contacts on the local, regional, national and — at the same time — broader political level, but it is too early to talk about the outcome of those contacts."
He later told The Associated Press these contacts were piecemeal efforts to win the confidence of local Taliban fighters rather than the beginning of a formal negotiation.
"There are not systematic talks going on with the Taliban," he said.
Also Monday, two would-be suicide bombers attacked a police station in southern Zabul province, but they were driven back before they could set off their explosives, Afghan officials said.
Police opened fire on the attackers as they approached the police headquarters in Qalat city, killing one, said deputy provincial police chief Ghulam Jalanai Farahi. One policeman was wounded.
The second attacker escaped, and security forces were searching for him, Farahi said.