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Four NATO troops killed

Four Norwegian soldiers were killed by a bomb as the record monthly death toll for NATO forces in Afghanistan continued to rise and the CIA warned the war was turning out tougher than expected.

world Updated: Jun 28, 2010 16:05 IST

Four Norwegian soldiers were killed by a bomb as the record monthly death toll for NATO forces in Afghanistan continued to rise and the CIA warned the war was turning out tougher than expected.

The Norwegians died yesterday when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in the northern province of Faryab, bringing to 98 the number of NATO soldiers killed in June and 318 for the whole year, according to an AFP tally.

"Norway has been hit hard. The loss deeply affects us all. It's hard and it reminds us of the risk we're taking," said Defence Minister Grete Faremo in Oslo.

NATO says the dramatic upswing in casualty numbers in June has been caused by the alliance stepping up military operations and taking the fight to the Taliban in areas where they have previously been unchallenged.

The heavy toll can be largely attributed to the Taliban's use of homemade bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are cheap and easy to make and account for the majority of foreign troops deaths.

However the rising casualties also come as questions are mounting in the United States and Europe about military strategy in Afghanistan following last week's sacking of the top NATO commander, US General Stanley McChrystal.

McChrystal was forced to step down as commander of the NATO-led force after disparaging remarks about US administration officials, including President Barack Obama, in an explosive article carried by Rolling Stone magazine.

The article raised questions about whether McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy, under which an extra 30,000 US troops were scheduled for deployment in Afghanistan, was working and fully supported by the US administration.

A British newspaper reported Sunday that McChrystal also issued a highly critical assessment of the war days before he was fired in a briefing note to allies that warned them to expect little progress in the next six months.

In Washington the head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, acknowledged there were "serious problems" with the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan.

"We're dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency," Panetta told ABC's "This Week."

"We are making progress. But it's harder and slower than anyone anticipated," he said.

Noting that Al-Qaeda's leadership was now apparently weaker than ever before, he insisted Obama's surge strategy, which will see the number of international troops on the ground peak at 150,000 in August, is the right one.