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Resurgent Taliban Kill 6 U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle Monday dealt NATO its bloodiest blow in more than a year, killing six U.S. troops, while wounding three others.

A US soldier stands guard at the site of a suicide attack in the Afghan capital Kabul on September 16, 2014. A Taliban suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a NATO convoy close to the US embassy in Kabul on September 16, killing three soldiers and wounding at least 13 Afghan civilians. At the side of the road, US and Polish troops gave first-aid to blood-stained comrades beside the wrecked remains of a military vehicle, but the nationality of the dead soldiers was not confirmed. AFP PHOTO/Wakil Kohsar        (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)
A US soldier stands guard at the site of a suicide attack in the Afghan capital Kabul on September 16, 2014. A Taliban suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a NATO convoy close to the US embassy in Kabul on September 16, killing three soldiers and wounding at least 13 Afghan civilians. At the side of the road, US and Polish troops gave first-aid to blood-stained comrades beside the wrecked remains of a military vehicle, but the nationality of the dead soldiers was not confirmed. AFP PHOTO/Wakil Kohsar (Photo credit should read WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images)

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle Monday dealt NATO its bloodiest blow in more than a year, killing six U.S. troops, while wounding three others.

The attack near the massive Bagram airfield comes a year after NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan came to an end. It will likely reverberate across an alliance already looking for an exit from a 14-year war which shows no signs of slowing down, despite years of fighting and tens of billions of dollars spent building up Afghan security forces who continue to struggle to hold ground.

A suicide bomber on a motorcycle Monday dealt NATO its bloodiest blow in more than a year, killing six U.S. troops, while wounding three others.

The attack near the massive Bagram airfield comes a year after NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan came to an end. It will likely reverberate across an alliance already looking for an exit from a 14-year war which shows no signs of slowing down, despite years of fighting and tens of billions of dollars spent building up Afghan security forces who continue to struggle to hold ground.

While Afghan forces have taken the lead on the battlefield, they have struggled mightily to contain a resurgent Taliban. The militant group has stepped up attacks across the country in recent months, capturing territory U.S. forces had previously taken from them in often fierce fighting. Without NATO’s ongoing training and support mission — which has been extended through at least the end of 2016 — the situation could be even worse. Monday’s attack underscores the risk that NATO troops still assume whenever they leave their fortified compounds.

The loss of six soldiers in one strike is the largest battlefield loss for the NATO mission since June 2014, when five American special operations members and an Afghan soldier were killed when a U.S. B-1 bomber mistakenly hit their position during a firefight in southern Afghanistan.

The new Taliban attack came about 1:30 p.m., when a military convoy was conducting a routine patrol near Bagram, the largest NATO base left in the country, housing thousands of troops.

The attack was the largest on a NATO military convoy since Aug. 22, when three American contractors were killed in a suicide attack on their convoy in Kabul. A total of 14 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan this year, only four of those in combat, according to the Defense Department. Those numbers are a small fraction of the Afghan forces who have died in combat in 2015, however. The latest available numbers that track the first six months of the year list about 4,100 Afghan soldiers and police officers killed, with another 7,800 wounded.

“We’re deeply saddened by this loss,” said Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, the U.S. military’s spokesman in Kabul. “Our heartfelt sympathies go out to the families and friends of those affected in this tragic incident, especially during this holiday season.”

The Taliban claimed credit for the attack, saying in a statement that “the U.S. makes every attempt either to deny or keep a lid on such reports or their fatalities to pull wool over the nation’s eyes so as to make it appear as if the U.S. invading troops are never at war,” according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The attack also stands as perhaps the most high-profile to hit U.S. forces since the August 2014 killing of Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, the deputy commander responsible for training Afghan security forces, who was killed by a disgruntled Afghan soldier as he toured a training facility for Afghan troops near Kabul. Greene was the highest-ranking American service member to be killed in the U.S. conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The end of the combat mission in Afghanistan hasn’t stopped U.S. commandos from staying in the fight, however. American troops played a key role in calling in airstrikes to help Afghan troops push the Taliban out of the city of Kunduz after Taliban fighters overran the city in September, making it the first city to fall to the Taliban — however briefly — in 14 years.

The fight in Kunduz showed the limitations of relying on small groups of commandos to fight such a sprawling conflict, as U.S. troops mistakenly called in an airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital they thought was a Taliban stronghold. The aid group claims 42 people died in the attack, which U.S. commanders have blamed on technical difficulties and the confusion of battle. A Pentagon probe of what went wrong — which the aid group has already dismissed as inadequate — is ongoing.

The Taliban also continues to retake ground in the southern province of Helmand, threatening the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. American special operations forces have been rushed to the province to try to stiffen Afghan lines and keep the province from fully falling to the insurgents.

Pentagon analysts concluded in a glum new report released earlier this month that the security situation throughout the country has “deteriorated with an increase in effective insurgent attacks,” including a growing threat from the Islamic State, which has become “operationally active.”

Even with fewer U.S. troops, the war continues to drain billions of dollars from U.S. coffers. Washington shelled out $4.1 billion to pay for the Afghan army and police in 2015, with the cash-starved Afghan government only managing to put up $411 million. The United States is slated to pay $3.8 billion to keep Afghan troops in the field in 2016.

Photo credit: WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

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