Three NATO troops were killed Friday in Afghanistan in a surge of attacks that raised the death toll to 17 in three days for international troops in the country.
One service member died Friday in an insurgent attack in the east and another was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan, an alliance statement said. It did not give nationalities or exact locations of the attacks.
France said a one of its soldiers died Friday of wounds sustained in a clash in the Uzbin Valley east of Kabul the day before.
On Thursday, eight NATO troops were killed in a spate of attacks, including four separate roadside bombings.
Improvised explosive devices on roadways are the weapon of choice for insurgents, who rely on guerrilla tactics to counter intensified NATO-Afghan operations.
It has been the deadliest year for international forces in the nine-year Afghan conflict. Troop numbers have been ramped up to turn the screws on insurgents and casualties have mounted.
The escalating toll _ more than 2,020 NATO deaths since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion _ has shaken the commitment of many alliance countries, with calls growing to start drawing down forces quickly.
U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, confirmed Friday that NATO has provided safe passage for senior Taliban leaders to travel to Kabul for face-to-face negotiations with the American-backed Afghan government.
Petraeus declined to provide details of the alliance's role in the clandestine talks _ discussions he described as "preliminary." The Afghan government has previously acknowledged it has been involved in reconciliation talks with the Taliban with some NATO help.
The Taliban, however, have vehemently denied any official talks have taken place.
Meanwhile, a roadside bomb detonated Friday beside a vehicle in southeastern Afghanistan, killing six Afghan civilians inside, said Ghulam Jalani Farahi, a police chief in Zabul province. Four people were wounded in the blast, which hit Qalat district.
"The ugly face of this insurgency continues to show itself," U.S. Army Col. Rafael Torres said, commenting on the attack.
The nine-year war has inflicted a mounting toll on Afghan civilians. The U.N. says insurgents are responsible for most civilian deaths. However, noncombatants are also killed in NATO military operations.
A recent U.N. report said more than 1,200 civilians died and nearly 2,000 were wounded between January and June this year.
Elsewhere in the restive south, five people were killed and a convoy of 11 fuel trucks set ablaze and destroyed by Taliban militants late Thursday in Kandahar province, said police chief Sardar Mohammad Zazia. The vehicles were parked and being repaired at a compound in Spin Boldak district when the Taliban struck, he said Friday.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf claimed responsibility for the attack.
In southern Helmand province Thursday, a suicide attacker killed one police officer, said police chief of Reg-i-Khan Nishin district, Kamal Uddin, on Friday.
The officer spotted the assailant approaching a compound and went out to intercept him. The attacker blew himself up, also killing the policeman, Uddin said.
Yousaf said the suicide bomber killed 11 police at the compound gate. It was impossible to independently confirm the account, and the Taliban are known to exaggerate death tolls.
The nearly 150,000 international troops and 220,000 Afghan security forces are still struggling to gain the upper hand against an estimated 30,000 insurgents.
The embattled south is the scene of Operation Dragon Strike, launched last month by NATO and Afghan forces in areas around Kandahar to flush out entrenched Taliban fighters and destroy their strongholds.
However, near-daily violence has also shaken other regions of Afghanistan recently.
Associated Press writer Mirwais Khan in Kandahar and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.