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Afghanistan attacks underscore insurgents' growing reach

New NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussmen called for more European troops as violence in once-calm west and north complicate preparations for Aug. 20 elections.

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A US soldier unloads rounds from an MRAP vehicle after an IED attack on 2nd platoon Apache Company in Afghanistan's Wardak province Monday. Thousands of US troops are deploying in southern Afghanistan as part of an effort to prevent the Taliban from disrupting the country's Aug. 20 presidential election.

Dima Gavrysh/AP

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Two attacks Monday in western and northern Afghanistan underscored the growing reach of the country's insurgency, which now stretches far beyond its early bases along the border with Pakistan.

That expansion – as well as more effective use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – shows a growing sophistication on the part of the insurgency, and has raised the stakes ahead of the upcoming presidential election.

"Everything has gotten much more sophisticated. These are very well trained guerrillas now. These are not rag-tag village peasants any more," says Ahmed Rashid, author of "Taliban."

A remote-controlled bomb Monday killed two policeman and eight civilians in western Afghanistan, a once relatively calm section of the country. In another quieter area, the north, insurgents ambushed Korean road engineers, killing one of their Afghan drivers.

As such areas become contested, the security situation is beginning to resemble a sprinkled donut, with peace prevailing mostly in ethnic Hazara strongholds – which suffered heavily under the Taliban – in the center of the country and in scattered provincial capitals.

"There has been a real desire [among the Taliban] to expand in the west and in the north," says Mr. Rashid. "This is the first time they really have been effective there."

At the same time, the traditional battlefields between international forces and the insurgents have only grown hotter. Over the weekend, militant attacks killed nine US and NATO soldiers. And in July, the coalition lost 75 troops, making it their deadliest month of the war in Afghanistan.

The deadly spike can partly be attributed to the injection of additional US forces this summer, says Mr. Rashid. But the increasing sophistication of guerrilla fighters is also contributing.

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