By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan -- August has become the deadliest month for U.S. troops in the nearly 10-year-old war in Afghanistan, where international forces have started to go home and let Afghan forces take charge of securing their country.
A record 66 U.S. troops have died so far this month, eclipsing the 65 killed in July 2010, according to a tally by The Associated Press.
This month's death toll soared when 30 Americans - most of them elite Navy SEALs - were killed in a helicopter crash Aug. 6. They were aboard a Chinook shot down as it was flying in to help Army Rangers who had come under fire in Wardak province. It was the single deadliest incident of war being waged by Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces and insurgents.
On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai used the start of a three-day Muslim holiday to plead with insurgents to lay down their arms and help rebuild the nation. Karzai wants Afghan security forces to take the lead in defending and protecting the nation by the end of 2014.
At a palace celebration, he also greeted eight boys and young men who had been asked to become suicide bombers, but then turned themselves in to Afghan authorities.
"Today we witness another good day for Afghanistan," he said. "We have with us those children who were forced by the Taliban - or whoever was behind it - to commit suicide attacks. They (the children) were saved using their wisdom."
He said five had been released to their parents, one was going to study in Turkey and authorities were still trying to find the relatives of the remaining two.
Karzai spoke on Eid al-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which is observed by millions of Muslims around the world. The month of dawn-to-dusk fasting and extended prayer began Aug. 1.
Violence is being reported across the nation despite the U.S.-led coalition's drive to rout insurgents from their strongholds in the south.
At the same time, the U.S. military has begun to implement President Barack Obama's order to start withdrawing the 33,000 extra troops he dispatched to the war. He ordered 10,000 out this year and another 23,000 withdrawn by the summer of 2012, leaving about 68,000 U.S. troops on the ground. Although major combat units are not expected to start leaving until late fall, two National Guard regiments comprising about 1,000 soldiers started going home last month.
Aside from the 30 Americans killed in the Chinook crash, southwest of Kabul, 23 died this month in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in southern Afghanistan, the main focus of Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces. The remaining 13 were killed in eastern Afghanistan.
Besides the 66 Americans killed so far this month, the NATO coalition suffered the loss of two British, four French, one New Zealander, one Australian, one Polish and five other troops whose nationalities have not yet been disclosed. One of the five was killed in a roadside bombing Tuesday in southern Afghanistan, the coalition said. No other details were released.
So far this year, 403 international service members, including at least 299 Americans, have been killed in Afghanistan.