- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

KABUL | Bombs and bullets killed seven American troops in Afghanistan on Monday, officials said, as thousands of U.S. Marines continued with their massive anti-Taliban offensive in the south.

A suicide car bomber blew himself up outside the gate of the main NATO base in the southern province of Kandahar, killing two civilians and wounding 14.

In an effort to protect Afghans, American troops recently received guidelines limiting the use of air strikes in order to minimize civilian casualties that threaten local support of foreign forces’ presence.

The seven American deaths came as thousands of Marines continued with their major offensive against the Taliban in Helmand province, a southern militant stronghold and hub of the vast Afghan drug trade.

Four soldiers died when their vehicles struck a roadside bomb in Kunduz province in the north, said Navy Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo, a U.S. military spokesman. The dead were training Afghan forces, he said.

In the south, meanwhile, another explosion killed two more troops, Chief Petty Officer Naranjo said, without giving the exact location of the blast.

Another soldier died of wounds sustained during a firefight Monday with militants in the east of the country, a U.S. military spokesman said, without providing other details.

On a visit to Moscow, President Obama said it is too soon to measure the success of his new strategy in Afghanistan. He said the United States can take another look at the situation after Afghanistan’s presidential elections on Aug. 20.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that in some respects, progress has been “insignificant” in Afghanistan and that it was hard to say how quickly the situation will improve.

The Taliban has effective control of large chunks of the volatile south and east of the country, undermining Afghanistan’s government.

About 500 Marines out of the group of 4,000 participating in the Helmand offensive have moved into the province’s Khan Neshin area, the Marines said Monday.

“This is the first time coalition forces have had a sustained presence so far south in the Helmand River valley. Khan Neshin had been a Taliban stronghold for several years before Afghan and coalition forces arrived and began discussions with local leaders several days ago,” the Marines said.

In an attempt to minimize civilian deaths in coalition military operations, the new commander of U.S. and NATO forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, issued new guidance to forces in Afghanistan, saying that he expects them to “scrutinize and limit” the use of air strikes against residential compounds “and other locations likely to produce civilian casualties.”

Gen. McChrystal has said he hopes to produce a cultural shift in the military so that troops do not see the use of massive firepower as their first priority but rather the protection of Afghan civilians. Gen. McChrystal’s new guidelines went into effect last week, and officials released a declassified version Monday.

“We must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories — but suffering strategic defeats — by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage and thus alienating the people,” the new order says.

Gen. McChrystal said that the Taliban cannot defeat U.S. and NATO forces but that “we can defeat ourselves.” The directive allows soldiers to fire on residential compounds when it is necessary for self-defense.

An Islamist Web site, meanwhile, confirmed that the Taliban had captured a missing U.S. soldier who American authorities had earlier said may have been kidnapped.

The soldier is thought to be the first U.S. serviceman captured in Afghanistan.

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