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Roadside Attacks in Afghanistan Hit New Record

Roadside bomb attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan are blowing past previous records, causing a rising number of wounded as U.S. troops are waging a major offensive to stop growing violence from Afghan insurgents.

The total number of incidents with roadside bombs, also called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), hit 736 in June, which set a record for the fourth straight month. Incidents have risen from 361 in March, to 407 in April and 465 in May, records show.

Records also show the steadily worsening security situation in Afghanistan during the past two years. In June 2007, there were 234 incidents and another 308 in June 2008, according to statistics from the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization. Incidents include IEDs found and cleared, ineffective attacks and attacks that kill or wound coalition troops.

"Tactically, IEDs remain the No. 1 threat to our troops," Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal said in an e-mail to USA TODAY. He is the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Troops are attempting to dismantle the organizations that build the bombs and pay insurgents to plant them, McChrystal said. Last week, the Pentagon announced it was buying more than 5,200 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles with off-road capability to help troops in Afghanistan survive the blasts. The trucks cost $1 million each.

The number of effective attacks hit 82 in June, compared with 24 in June 2007. This June's attacks killed 23 troops and wounded another 166, records show. That was a 73% increase from the 96 troops wounded in May, the previous high. In June 2007, roadside bombs wounded 43 coalition troops; 85 were wounded by such attacks in June 2008.

The bombs have become more effective weapons for the Taliban, the hard-line Muslim movement that ruled Afghanistan before being run out of Kabul in 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion.

"There is no one solution," McChrystal said. "The best way to defeat IEDs will be to defeat the Taliban's hold on the people - to create a new atmosphere where the people reject the Taliban and their culture of fear and intimidation."

More than 4,000 Marines began an offensive in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province last week to drive out the Taliban. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said IEDs are causing 80% of all Marine casualties in Afghanistan.

British troops are suffering more IED attacks, too, British Defense Minister Bob Ainsworth said in a speech Wednesday. "These are deadly, indiscriminate weapons - the majority being killed and injured are Afghan locals. The technological complexity of the devices we are finding is increasing - as is their size and lethality," he said.

Two NATO soldiers were killed Monday in an IED explosion in Helmand, NATO said. Their identities and nationalities have not been identified.

President Obama has ordered 21,000 U.S. troops there to provide better security. There will be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan by year's end, double the level of U.S. forces there at the end of 2008.

Insurgent attacks have strengthened in Afghanistan over the past three years, and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Tuesday that violence there was likely to increase. "It is indicative of expectations that I've had for some time that this fight is going to be tough," he said. "It's going to be tougher before it gets easier."

Mullen pointed to the loss of seven U.S. troops on Monday. Four of those died when an IED exploded as their vehicle crossed a bridge in the northern Afghan region of Kunduz.

In Iraq, where IEDs remain the top killer of U.S. troops, overall incidents have plummeted, records show. There were 260 incidents in June, compared with 2,588 in June 2007 and 602 in June 2008. Effective IED attacks dropped from 242 in June 2007 and 47 last year to only 26 last month.

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