KABUL, Afghanistan - Roadside bombs killed five NATO soldiers and a civilian in eastern Afghanistan on Friday, while a coalition of aid groups warned that violence is spreading to once-stable regions and forcing them to scale back humanitarian work.
The soldiers' deaths marked a bloody start to the month in what has already been a deadly year for the separate U.S.-led coalition and NATO mission in Afghanistan, where an insurgency is raging nearly seven years after the fundamentalist Taliban regime was ousted.
Four of the NATO soldiers and a civilian died in Kunar province and the fifth soldier was killed in Khost, the alliance said in a statement. It did not release the nationalities of the soldiers, but most troops in those eastern areas are American.
The number of insurgent attacks in eastern Afghanistan have increased 40 percent this year compared to the same period in 2007. Afghan officials contend most of the militants fighting in the east use Pakistan's tribal areas across the border as a base.
A suicide bomber, meanwhile, blew himself up while being chased by police in the southwestern town of Zaranj in Nimroz province, and the blast killed three civilians, including two young girls, and wounded five others, Afghan authorities said.
Militants regularly use suicide bombing in attacks aimed at Afghan and foreign security forces, but the majority of victims are civilians.
The Taliban-led insurgency has been particularly strong in the south and east, but the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief noted Friday that violence is now reaching other provinces, even those bordering the capital, Kabul, such as Logar and Wardak.
"Insecurity has spread to areas which were previously relatively stable in parts of north, northwest and central Afghanistan," the umbrella organization for 100 aid groups said in a statement.
Drawing on other recent reports, it said that "aid organizations and their staff have been subject to increasing attacks, threats and intimidation, by both insurgent and criminal groups."
A group advising aid agencies on security tallied 2,056 insurgent attacks in the six months through June, a 52 percent increase from the same period of 2007. The Afghanistan NGO Safety Office said 19 aid workers have been killed so far this year, compared to 15 during all of 2007.
The coordinating body said initial estimates suggest more than 260 Afghan civilians were killed in July alone, higher than any other month in the last six years.
An Associated Press count based on accounts from Afghan and Western officials indicates more than 2,700 people — most of them militants — have died in insurgency-related violence this year.
The aid groups' statement said violence in southern Afghanistan has forced the closure of a large number of schools and health facilities and "has caused significant levels of internal displacement."
On top of the violence, it noted, parts of Afghanistan are experiencing "severe drought" and food prices are rising in the country, adding to the hardships of an already impoverished population.
"Increasing and spreading insecurity is jeopardizing the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to these people and threatening their lives and livelihoods," the statement said.
Aleem Siddique, a top U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan, agreed that "the humanitarian challenge in Afghanistan continues to grow" but said he hoped that won't drive away aid agencies, whose support is needed "if we are to prevent further suffering."
"It is imperative that they remain committed to Afghanistan," Siddique said. "The needs of its people cannot be met by the government and the U.N. alone."
The groups involved in the aid coordinating body also expressed concern about the impact of violence on civilians and noted that airstrikes by international forces were adding to the civilian casualty toll.
A U.S. military spokesman, 1st Lt. Nathan Perry, responded Friday by reiterating the U.S. and NATO position. "Coalition forces make every effort to minimize the risk of any damage, injury or loss of life to noncombatants," he said.