KABUL, Afghanistan » Two more NATO service members have been killed in weekend attacks in Afghanistan, the military coalition said Sunday as Australia’s new prime minister vowed to Afghanistan’s president that her country would continue to support the war.
This has been the deadliest year of the nine-year Afghan war for international troops, and the rising death toll has shaken the commitment of many NATO countries, where there are rising calls to start drawing down troops quickly. Monthly deaths peaked in June — when 103 NATO forces were killed.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard had a private dinner with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday and pledged continued backing, her office said in a statement Sunday. It was her first overseas trip as Australia’s leader.
"Gillard underscored Australia’s intention to continue working with the Afghan government to help meet its objectives to improve security, governance and development across the country and reiterated Australia’s expectations of the Afghan government in the process," her office said.
Gillard visited Australian troops in southern Uruzgan province, before flying to Kabul to meet with Karzai and Gen. David Petraeus, the commander for NATO’s troops in Afghanistan.
Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, and Petraeus discussed plans for transferring the responsibility for security in Afghanistan to Afghan forces.
On Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave a rousing speech to Afghan troops calling on them to be ready to take charge of protecting and defending the nation when international troops eventually leave.
"It is possible that one day this international community, which is with us today, will not see a benefit in Afghanistan any more and leave us — like they left us in the past," Karzai said Saturday. "What then is the task of the Afghan people, the Afghan government and the Afghan armed forces? Maintaining and developing the national interests of our country."
Australia has 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in Uruzgan province. Twenty-one Australian soldiers have died since the war began. Australia’s parliament is expected to hold a debate soon on the country’s role in the war.
NATO did not provide the nationalities of the latest troop deaths, in keeping with a policy to wait for national authorities to release information on their casualties.
One of the service members died Sunday in a battle with insurgents in the north, while another was killed by a bomb attack Saturday in the south, the alliance said. No other details were provided.
The deaths bring to seven the number of NATO service members killed in the first three days of October. At least 57 NATO service members were killed in September, including 42 Americans, according to an Associated Press tally.
NATO also said it captured a key Taliban leader in southern Kandahar province Saturday. The alleged insurgent was a bomb expert who was planning suicide attacks in the area, the alliance said.