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As the U.S. and its allies step up pressure around Kandahar, Taliban resistance has also intensified in Helmand province to the west and in Zabul province to the east. Those three provinces account for roughly 70 percent of the U.S. deaths this month.

“We are going into places that have been significant support bases for the Taliban for the past several years, and they’re going to fight hard for those,” Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who directs day-to-day operations, said this month. “And that’s why we expect the casualties to go up.”

The rise in casualties is likely to erode support for the war in Washington and the capitals of the 45 other countries that provide troops — especially if NATO commanders are unable to show progress in curbing the Taliban. The Dutch are due to remove the last of their 1,600-member force at the end of this month, and Canada plans to remove its 2,700 troops next year.

Obama has promised to begin withdrawing U.S. troops in July next year with the pace to be determined by conditions on the ground.

At the same time, there are signs that Afghan patience with the presence of thousands of foreign troops is running thin.

In the capital, Kabul, police fired weapons into the air Friday to disperse a crowd of angry Afghans who shouted “Death to America!”, hurled stones and set fire to two vehicles after an SUV, driven by U.S. contract employees, was involved in a traffic accident that killed four Afghans, according to the capital’s criminal investigations chief, Abdul Ghaafar Sayedzada.

The contractor, DynCorp International, confirmed that its employees, working on a program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, were involved in an accident on the main road to the Kabul airport. In a statement, DynCorp said that when its employees got out of their vehicle, they and other DynCorp employees, who arrived at the scene to help, were attacked by the crowd, which burned their vehicles.

“Our condolences go out to the families of those who were killed or injured,” DynCorp said. “An investigation is under way.”

People at the scene claimed foreigners fired shots, killing and wounding Afghan civilians. DynCorp said the contractors fired no shots and that Afghan police helped move the contractors to safety away from the crowd. Hospital officials said the deaths and injuries were caused by the traffic accident.

Ahmad Jawid, who also was at the scene, asked: “Are we not Muslims? Are we not from Afghanistan? Infidels are here and they are ruling us. Why?”

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Associated Press Writer Amir Shah in Kabul and AP researcher Monika Mathur in New York contributed to this report.