NATO: 5 troops killed in south Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Roadside bombs killed five NATO service members in southern Afghanistan on Friday, the alliance said. NATO did not identify the troops or disclose what countries they came from.
The deaths brought to nine the number of coalition troops killed in the first week of the year. At least 544 NATO troops died in Afghanistan in 2011, the second-deadliest year for the coalition in the decade-old war.
Four troops died in one of Friday's bombings, and one was killed in a separate blast. The alliance said both incidents occurred in southern Afghanistan but provided no further details.
U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan have been significantly increased since 2009 and the government's army and police have rapidly expanded, resulting in the capture and killing of thousands of Taliban insurgents. Nonetheless, the guerrillas have retained their capability to inflict losses on coalition forces.
Faced with overwhelming allied superiority in numbers and firepower, the Taliban largely avoid direct combat, relying instead on roadside bombs, small ambushes and hit-and-run tactics to harass NATO and government forces.
Taliban military activities typically abate during the winter months, due to heavy snows and bitter cold in the rough mountain terrain.
The steady flow of casualties and the high costs of the operation have undermined support for the war, particularly among European allies who make up about a third of the approximately 130,000-member NATO-led force. They come at a time when defense budgets are being slashed as part of public spending cuts and other austerity measures designed to deal with the worsening economic crisis.
NATO is gradually handing over responsibility for security to the rapidly expanding Afghan police and army. Coalition forces plan to cease combat operations in 2014, when most foreign troops will be withdrawn.
The government's army and police will assume the lead role in about half the nation over the next several months.
On Thursday, President Hamid Karzai demanded that the largest detention center in the country be handed over to exclusive Afghan control.
The state-of-the-art internment facility located near Bagram Airfield is now jointly run by U.S. and Afghan authorities. It was completed in 2009 to replace another jail, where human rights groups claimed detainees were menaced, forced to strip naked and kept in solitary confinement in windowless cells.
Karzai also demanded that all Afghan citizens held by the coalition troops across the nation be turned over to the government. A presidential statement said that keeping Afghan citizens imprisoned without trial violates the country's constitution, as well as international human rights conventions.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. and Afghanistan have been working on the transfer of detention facilities for a long time. She said no timeline has been agreed on.
"We're going to continue to work with the Afghan government to implement the transition that we have both agreed needs to happen," Nuland told reporters. "We need to do this in a manner that is maximally responsible."