LIANE HANSEN, host:

August began just as July had ended for U.S. forces in Afghanistan - badly. Three more soldiers were killed on Saturday in the south of the country. July was the worst month for American forces there since the war began nearly eight years ago. At least 43 U.S. troops lost their lives last month. Afghan civilian deaths are also on the rise.

And as NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman reports, most of the civilian and military deaths have something in common - roadside bombs.

TOM BOWMAN: Most of the bombs are crudely made, sometimes including fertilizer and diesel fuel. They have little metal, so they're difficult to find with metal detectors and other sophisticated equipment. So U.S. Marines are bringing in dogs to help sniff out their components.

Those roadside bombs are becoming the favorite tool of the Taliban, says a U.N. report just released. The report says Taliban forces are now shifting away from ambushes or frontal assaults. U.S. officers report finding more and more caches of fertilizers and bomb-making materials. Roadside bombs now account for about two-thirds of American combat deaths. That same ratio is true for Afghan civilians, according to the U.N. More than 1,000 Afghan civilians were killed during the first six months of the year. That's a 25 percent increase over the same time last year.

Afghanistan has mostly dirt roads - that makes it easier to dig and place the bombs. They're being buried all over Afghanistan, especially in the south where thousands of American troops are now stationed or getting ready to deploy. Like Helmand Province, where Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina have set up combat outposts. And neighboring Kandahar Province, where Army troops from Fort Lewis, Washington will soon take up positions.

Both provinces are strongholds of the Taliban. When the Americans head out on patrol, away from supplies, from convoys, the Taliban forces will be waiting. One Taliban commander recently told reporters: We will kill them on the roads.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

HANSEN: And some news this morning from Iraq. After 18 years missing, the U.S. military says it has found the remains of Captain Michael Scott Speicher, the first American lost in the Persian Gulf War. Captain Speicher's jet was shot down over the desert on the first night of the 1991 war and until now the military was uncertain whether he was dead or alive.

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