Taliban threaten Afghan poll, deadly month nears end
The deadliest month of the Afghanistan war neared an end on Thursday, with growing violence threatening to overshadow crucial presidential elections next month which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt, Reuters reported.
The United States and Britain in July have suffered by far their worst losses of the war, the total of at least 69 foreign soldiers killed in the month exceeding or equaling total losses for each of the first four years of the war.
U.S. losses stood at 39 killed in July, easily passing the previous high of 26 in September 2008. Britain has suffered its worst battlefield casualties since the 1980s Falklands War, the 22 troops killed in the month taking its total losses in Afghanistan to 191, 10 more than were killed in the Iraq war.
Casualties spiked after thousands of U.S. and British troops launched two major operations in southern Helmand province -- Strike of the Sword and Panther's Claw -- long a Taliban stronghold and the center of Afghanistan's opium production.
"We must ensure that we succeed in the current campaign. Success in Afghanistan is not discretionary and will set the agenda for the future," British army chief General Richard Dannatt told London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The operations are the first under U.S. President Barack Obama's new regional strategy to defeat the Taliban and its Islamist militant allies and stabilize Afghanistan.
The August 20 presidential elections are a crucial test of Washington's new strategy and of Kabul's ability to stage a credible, legitimate and secure poll, analysts say.
On Thursday, the Taliban issued its first formal promise to disrupt the poll, calling on Afghans to shun it..
It labeled the poll a U.S. "invention" and a farce, accusing Afghan President Hamid Karzai of not having the courage to stand up to U.S. ambitions in Afghanistan and telling its fighters to attack election-related targets and stop people from voting.
"All Afghans, due to their Islamic and national sentiments, need to totally boycott this seductive U.S. process and ... join the trenches of jihad," the Taliban's leadership council posted on a website it uses (www.alemarah1.net).