KABUL – A bomb attack killed two American service members in southern Afghanistan on Friday, while the country's president both applauded international troops' effort at a campaign rally and promised to hold them more accountable for civilian casualties, house raids and arbitrary detentions.
NATO reported the insurgent attack and U.S. military spokesman Navy Lt. Robert Carr confirmed that the troops were American. No other details were immediately available.
July has been the deadliest month for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. Friday's deaths raised the American toll to 37, well above the 28 who were killed in two months last summer.
At his first campaign rally in the capital, President Hamid Karzai shook hands and roused supporters with a promise to better hold NATO and U.S. troops accountable for actions that harm or ignore the rights of Afghan citizens.
Karzai has done little campaigning in the run up to the Aug. 20 elections he is widely expected to win. He has sent representatives to most events and decided not to take part in a televised debate Thursday with his two closest competitors. The other two candidates went on with the debate next to his empty podium.
About 3,000 people — men wearing turbans and vests and some women in headscarves — crammed into an assembly tent in western Kabul to hear Karzai speak Friday.
The president said there had been many improvements in Afghanistan under his watch, noting that there are more roads, hospitals and schools than when he came to power eight years ago.
He said that if he is re-elected, he will revisit Afghanistan's agreement with international forces working to restore peace in the country to make sure they respect the rights of Afghan citizens. Increasing civilian casualties plus house raids and detentions have caused too much friction between groups that are working toward a common goal, he said.
"I want to remove the fear between us and the international troops," he said. Karzai promised to review agreements with NATO and American forces to make sure that the government was in control.
Too often, he said, international troops make decisions without consulting the Afghan government.
"It should be clear who is the owner of the house and who is the guest," he said. The appeal prompted shouts and clapping throughout the crowd.
On Thursday, Karzai's two leading competitors for the country's top post charged that he has not done enough to protect Afghan citizens from violence during his tenure.
Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani both cited civilian casualties, searching private homes without permission and arresting people without cause as major reasons for opposition to the presence of American and other international forces.
Though Karzai is expected to finish first in next month's vote, his challengers hope that his popularity has fallen off enough in recent years that they can deny him a majority of votes and force a runoff in October.
The English-speaking son of a Pashtun tribal leader, Karzai came to power shortly after the 2001 fall of the Taliban regime. He was one of the few Pashtun leaders to oppose the Taliban inside Afghanistan during the U.S.-led invasion and was strongly backed by the Bush administration.
But in the years since, widespread government corruption and increasing violence from a resurgent Taliban have greatly diminished his standing.
In other fighting, Sweden's military reported that Swedish and Finnish soldiers killed three insurgents in a firefight in the north.
The military says the fighting started late Thursday when a Swedish unit was attacked near Mazar-e-Sharif. Swedish and Finnish soldiers were called to assist and exchanged fire with insurgents throughout the night. No international troops were wounded.