- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 29, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | An American service member died in a bomb blast in Afghanistan on Friday, making August the deadliest month of the eight-year war for U.S. forces.

The service member’s vehicle struck a roadside bomb in the east, NATO forces said. U.S. forces spokeswoman Capt. Elizabeth Mathias confirmed the nationality but did not provide further details.

The death brings to 45 the number of U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan this month, surpassing the 44 troops killed in July, which had been the deadliest.

More than 60,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan to fight rising insurgent violence, boosted by about 21,000 pouring in this summer as part of President Obama’s effort to rout the resurgent Taliban and increase security for presidential elections held last week.

Also Friday, a radio reporter with CBS News was injured when a roadside bomb hit the U.S. Army vehicle in which she was traveling, Reuters reported.

New York-based correspondent Cami McCormick was injured in Logar province where she had been covering the recent elections. CBS said she was initially treated at a field hospital, where she underwent surgery to stabilize her condition, and was then transported to Bagram Air Base near Kabul for additional treatment.

Attacks typically rise in Afghanistan during the summer and U.S. officials had warned that violence was likely to increase along with the troop surge. Roadside bombings have skyrocketed as U.S. troops move into areas where insurgents have been entrenched for years.

The increased military presence and the political tension surrounding this month’s presidential election have strained U.S.-Afghan relations.

President Hamid Karzai has angrily accused the U.S. of pushing for a runoff vote during a heated meeting with the special envoy to the region, according to officials familiar with the encounter.

The verbal exchange occurred the day after the Aug. 20 vote during a meeting in Kabul between Mr. Karzai and U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke, according to two officials who were briefed about the meeting. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Mr. Karzai assured Mr. Holbrooke he would accept the election results but bristled when the envoy asked if he would also agree to a runoff if none of the 36 candidates won more than 50 percent of the vote, the U.S. officials said.

An angry Mr. Karzai accused the U.S. of pushing the idea of a second round even before all votes had been counted. He said he would accept the election commission’s tabulation as long as it reflected the facts. He did not elaborate.

Final results are due next month but partial figures released this week show Mr. Karzai leading former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and 34 other candidates but falling short of the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff.

The U.S. Embassy confirmed the Aug. 21 meeting and said the two discussed the election but would not go into details.

“There was no shouting and no one stormed out,” said Caitlin Hayden, an embassy spokeswoman.

U.S. officials have accused Mr. Karzai of weak leadership in the face of the resurgent Taliban, corruption, and a flourishing drug trade. However, the U.S. has insisted it is neutral in the election and will work with whoever wins.

The New York Times reported this week that the Obama administration is alarmed at the prospect that Mr. Karzai’s running mate, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, may be linked to the drug trade.

Quoting an unidentified administration official, the newspaper said if Mr. Fahim becomes vice president, the U.S. would likely consider imposing sanctions such as refusing him a U.S. visa or going after his personal finances.

A U.S. official in Washington confirmed the essence of the report, saying there were “a number of individuals” whom the U.S. would not like to see in a future Afghan government.

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