NATO says 5 American service members killed in Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Five American service members were killed in an attack in southern Afghanistan, the international coalition said on Tuesday.

A statement from the international alliance said all five soldiers died on Monday but did not give any further details. Coalition policy is for home countries to identify their military dead.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The insurgents have intensified attacks on Afghan and foreign forces ahead of the country's presidential election runoff on Saturday. Officials are concerned there could be more violence around the balloting, though the first round in April passed relatively peacefully.

A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said a battle took place on Monday night between foreign troops and Taliban fighters in Arghandab district in southern Zabul province. Ahmadi claimed a "huge number" of NATO soldiers were killed or wounded in the fighting but the Taliban often exaggerate their claims.

The Afghan police chief in southern Zabul province said there was a joint operation by Afghan and NATO troops in the province earlier Monday. After that operation was over, the troops came under an attack by the Taliban in Arghandab district and called in air support, said Gen. Ghulam Sakhi Rooghlawanay.

Along with the five NATO troops, an Afghan soldier also died in the fighting, said Rooghlawanay.

Separately, a NATO statement said a service member had died on Monday as a result of a non-battle injury in eastern Afghanistan.

The deaths bring to 36 the number of NATO soldiers killed so far this year in Afghanistan, with eight service members killed in June.

Casualties have been falling in the U.S.-led military coalition as its forces pull back to allow the Afghan army and police to fight the Taliban insurgency. All combat troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from the country by the end of this year.