KABUL — Eight new fatalities Tuesday made October the deadliest month yet for US forces in Afghanistan, as President Barack Obama announced a key meeting with army chiefs to discuss his fateful troop decision.
The latest attacks, which were claimed by the Taliban, came the day after 14 US soldiers and narcotics agents died in helicopter crashes, piling pressure on Obama as he mulls sending tens of thousands more troops.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama had summoned the Joint Chiefs of Staff to a meeting on Friday to get their input as he winds down a painstaking review before making his decision on troop levels.
Asked whether it was one of the last pieces of the decision process, Gibbs said, "I think we're getting, certainly, toward the end of that."
The US military commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has called for more than 40,000 addition troops to suppress a spreading Taliban insurgency but debate over strategy has intensified as US casualties mount.
A Pentagon official confirmed the latest deaths made October the deadliest month for American forces since the war began in 2001, in the wake of the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York by Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network.
They brought the number of Americans killed to at least 53 for the month, compared with 51 killed in August, the next deadliest month for the US.
So far this year, 445 foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the independent website icasualties.org. Of those, 277 were Americans.
Seven of the soldiers who lost their lives Tuesday along with an Afghan civilian were killed in an attack in the south of the country, said NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The eighth died in a separate attack in another part of the south, said ISAF without giving further details about the locations.
The deaths occurred in what a statement referred to as "multiple complex IED attacks," referring to improvised explosive devices that have become the scourge of troops fighting a resurgent Taliban.
"Additionally, several service members were wounded in these incidents and were transported to a regional medical facility for treatment," it added.
Southern Afghanistan is the most violent region in the country, the traditional stronghold of the Taliban and where foreign forces, backed by their Afghan counterparts, are concentrated.
In a separate statement, ISAF said it had recovered the remains of three civilian crew and the wreckage of a plane that went down in rugged terrain in Nuristan province on October 13.
The Army C-12 Huron failed to return to Bagram airfield, near Kabul, after a routine mission, it said.
"Upon visible inspection of the site, the mission changed from search and rescue to search and recovery," it said, adding that the cause of the crash was still being investigated but "hostile action is not believed to be the cause."
Commanders in the country have requested significant reinforcements, saying that the more boots on the ground the greater the chance they have against a Taliban-led insurgency that has intensified in recent months.
Obama on Monday promised US troops a clear mission before pitching them into the worsening battle, after conducting the latest meeting of his war council, which is mounting an exhaustive review of Afghan and Pakistan strategy.
"I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this -- and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan," Obama told military personnel in Florida.
"I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm's way.
"I won't risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary, and if it is necessary, we will back you up.
"Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals and the equipment and support you need to get the job done."
Obama critics, some senior Republicans among them, have complained that Obama's weeks-long security review is dragging on too long. Former vice president Dick Cheney last week accused the president of "dithering."
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