KABUL — A string of attacks in Afghanistan killed 10 NATO soldiers and two foreign contractors in the bloodiest 24 hours for the alliance this year, as troops readied for a push into the heart of Taliban territory.
Seven Americans, two Australians and one French soldier were killed on Monday, one of the deadliest days in the nine-year war in Afghanistan to crush the hardline Islamist Taliban.
Six US soldiers were killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and another was killed by small arms fire, Washington announced.
Two Australians, who were training Afghan troops, were killed by a roadside bomb during a patrol in the province of Uruzgan, officials in Australia said.
France said one of its troops was killed and three others wounded in a rocket attack by Taliban militants in the east of the country.
Separately, two foreign contractors, one of them an American, were killed in a suicide attack on an Afghan police training centre in the southern city of Kandahar, the US embassy said.
NATO, US and Afghan troops are preparing their biggest offensive yet against the Taliban in Kandahar province, with total foreign troop numbers in the country set to peak at 150,000 by August.
President Barack Obama ordered the US war effort to be ramped up in the hope that an initial surge will break the back of the Taliban insurgency and allow him to start drawing down troops next year.
Monday's toll was the highest for a single day since the deaths of 11 French soldiers on one day in August 2008. The latest killings follow the deaths Sunday of five NATO soldiers, four of them Americans, in two separate attacks and a vehicle accident.
According to an AFP tally, based on a count kept by the independent website icasualties.org, 245 foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year. Last year was the deadliest yet with 520 killed.
The rising toll is unwelcome news in Washington and London -- the two biggest contributors of troops supporting President Hamid Karzai's government -- with voters increasingly weary of casualties in a far-off and seemingly endless foreign war.
Taliban militants, who were overthrown by the US-led invasion in 2001, have stepped up their campaign to rid Afghanistan of the 130,000 foreign fighters and have spread their influence beyond their traditional stronghold in the south.
But Obama and his military commanders are banking on a push into the militant bastion of Kandahar -- the birthplace of the Taliban and seat of their five year government -- to defeat the movement.
In concert with the push, a "peace jirga" in Kabul last week endorsed Karzai's plan to offer the olive branch -- including jobs and money -- to militants who lay down their weapons.
In Madrid, US special envoy Richard Holbrooke said more funds for the plan were likely to be pledged next month at a conference in Kabul.
The July 20 meeting is a follow-up to a London summit in January, when donors pledged an initial 140 million dollars to a so-called Afghanistan Peace and Reconciliation Programme trust fund.
"Almost 200 million dollars has been committed under a programme led by the Japanese... and there will more developments on this at the Kabul conference," Holbrooke said.