5 foreign troops killed by in Afghanistan, raising month's death toll to 47

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Attacks by insurgents killed five foreign troops in Afghanistan on Monday, including two Americans, two French marines and a Hungarian soldier.

The attacks came in the north, south and east of the war-torn country, the military alliance said.

France's Defense Ministry said a lieutenant and corporal from the 21st Marine Infantry Regiment were killed in a gunbattle in the Bedraou Valley in the eastern province of Kapisa. Three other French troops were wounded, it said.

Monday's deaths bring the number of French troops killed in the Afghan war to 47. The French contingent to the NATO-led international force numbers about 4,000.

No additional information was given about the American casualties.

Hungary's Defense Ministry said its soldier was killed after his convoy was hit by a blast and then strafed by gunfire from all sides. The attack occurred 12 miles (20 kilometers) northwest of the town of Pul-e Khumri in the northern province of Baghlan.

Three other soldiers were wounded and the convoy managed to return to its base in the province, where Hungary administers development projects, it said.

The deaths bring the number of foreign forces killed in Afghanistan this month to 47, including 30 Americans, according to a count by The Associated Press.

They come amid a particularly bloody period for international troops, with 66 Americans killed in July — the deadliest month for the U.S. in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion that overthrew the hard-line Islamist Taliban government.

Monday's casualties follow the deaths Sunday of four U.S. troops amid fierce fighting in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Combat has intensified around the country amid an increase in the number of foreign forces battling the stubborn Taliban insurgency to about 120,000, including more than 78,000 Americans. Foreign troops are increasingly skirmishing in the vast south and mountainous east, where insurgents have long held sway. Militants also are attacking coalition forces in parts of the north and west where they were not previously active.

Baghlan has seen an increasing number of attacks and Afghan and international forces killed 12 insurgents in a firefight in the province Sunday, including two Taliban regional commanders, NATO said.

Amid the continuing violence, President Hamid Karzai defended his decision to disband private security firms operating in the country, saying they were undermining Afghanistan's police and army and contributing to corruption.

Karzai last week ordered Afghan and international security companies to cease operating by the end of the year, despite U.S. concerns the short deadline may endanger American development projects that are protected by private guards.

NATO uses security contractors to guard supply convoys bringing food, water, ammunition and other supplies to military bases. Critics of the decision have said Afghanistan's own security forces are not ready to assume the burden.

But Karzai told ABC News' "This Week with Christiane Amanpour" that the companies undermine the effort to recruit more police and soldiers because the government can't compete with the private firms in salaries. He also repeated allegations that many companies are contributing to corruption by shaking down transport firms for money, some of which goes to warlords and the Taliban for protection.

Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omar, reiterated the government's determination to end such operations, calling it part of efforts to strengthen rule of law. Employees of private security firms would receive assistance finding new jobs, possibly with the Afghan national police or army, Omar said.

Even before Karzai's order last week, U.S. congressional investigators had been looking into allegations that Afghan security firms were extorting as much as $4 million a week from contractors paid with U.S. tax dollars and then funneling the money to warlords and the Taliban to avoid attacks against convoys. Allegations of widespread corruption have also been levied at the Afghan police.

During the interview, Karzai also said he was willing to talk peace with Taliban figures who break with al-Qaida and other terrorist groups — a key U.S. condition — and accept the Afghan constitution. He said there had already been "individual contacts with some Taliban elements" but not formal negotiations.

The president acknowledged fears that political, economic and social gains of women and ethnic minorities might be eroded under a future peace agreement with the Taliban, which banned women from most jobs and education during their years in power.

Those concerns were heightened last week when Taliban militants in northern Afghanistan stoned a young couple to death for adultery in the first confirmed use of the punishment here since the hard-line Islamist regime was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.

Karzai said he was in "deep, deep shock" over the stoning and would ensure that women's representation in peace talks would be "solid and meaningful."

He said the Afghan people must make sure the gains made by women "in political, social and economic walks of life" since the fall of the Taliban were not only protected "but are promoted and advanced further."


Associated Press writer Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.