Air Force Para-rescuemen Staff Sgt. Brenden Patterson (left) and Staff Sgt. Brandon Smith during a helicopter rescue mission en route to a military hospital. They are treating an Afghan boy who stepped on an IED which severed his right foot and most of a hand on Wednesday. Image Credit: AP

Kabul: Three US service members were killed in blasts in Afghanistan, bringing the US toll for July to at least 63.

This made it the deadliest month for American forces in the nearly nine-year-war.

A Nato statement yesterday said the three died in two separate blasts in southern Afghanistan the day before.

The statement gave no nationalities, but US officials said all three were Americans. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity pending notification of kin.

US and Nato commanders had warned that casualties would rise as the international military force ramped up the war against the Taliban, especially in the southern strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan in December in a bid to turn back a resurgent Taliban.

Deadliest month

The tally of 63 American service members' deaths in July came from military reports compiled by The Associated Press. June had been the deadliest month for both the US and the overall Nato-led force. A total of 104 international service members died last month, including 60 Americans.

The American deaths this month included Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin McNeley from Kingman, Arizona, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Jarod Newlove, 25, from the Seattle area. They went missing last Friday in Logar province south of Kabul, and the Taliban announced they were holding one of the sailors.

McNeley's body was recovered there Sunday and Newlove's body was pulled from a river Wednesday evening, Afghan officials said. The Taliban offered no explanation for Newlove's death, but Afghan officials speculated he died of wounds suffered when the two were ambushed by the Taliban.

The discovery of Newlove's body deepened the mystery of the men's disappearance nearly 100km from their base in Kabul.

An investigation is under way, but with both sailors dead, US authorities remain at a loss to explain what two junior enlisted men in noncombat jobs were doing driving alone in Logar — much of which is not under government control.

Operation to secure transport route

British and Afghan troops Friday launched a military operation to secure a transport route in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand, one of the most volatile theatres in the nine-year war.

The operation began in Sayedebad town in Nad Ali, a district bordering Marjah, where US Marines in February launched one of the war's biggest operations.

Britain's defence ministry said Operation Tor Shezada, or "black prince", would improve security in Marjah by securing a transportation route that would "increase freedom of movement for locals".