Published: Jul 30, 2010 12:03 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 30, 2010 9:03 AM EDT

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Three U.S. service members were killed

in blasts in Afghanistan, bringing the toll for July to at least 63

and making it the deadliest month for American forces in the nearly

9-year-war.

A NATO statement Friday said the three died in two separate

blasts in southern Afghanistan the day before. The statement gave

no nationalities, but U.S. officials say all three were Americans.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity pending notification

of kin.

U.S. and NATO commanders had warned that casualties would rise

as the international military force ramps up the war against the

Taliban, especially in their southern strongholds in Helmand and

Kandahar provinces. President Barack Obama ordered 30,000

reinforcements to Afghanistan last December in a bid to turn back a

resurgent Taliban."

The tally of 63 American service member deaths in July is based

on military reports compiled by The Associated Press. June had been

the deadliest month for both the U.S. and the overall NATO-led

force. A total of 104 international service members died last

month, including 60 Americans.

The American deaths this month include 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 only deepened the mystery of the

men's disappearance nearly 60 miles (100 kilometers) from their

base in Kabul. An investigation is under way, but with both sailors

dead, U.S. 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.

Newlove's father, Joseph Newlove, told KOMO-TV in Seattle that

he too was baffled why his son had left the relative safety of

Kabul.

"He's never been out of that town. So why would he go out of

that town? He wouldn't have," he said.

Senior military officials in Washington, who spoke on condition

of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the

sailors were never assigned anywhere near where their bodies were

found.

A NATO official in Kabul shot down speculation that the two had

been abducted in Kabul and driven to Logar - the same province

where New York Times reporter David Rohde was kidnapped in 2008

while trying to make contact with a Taliban commander. Rohde and an

Afghan colleague escaped in June 2009 after seven months in

captivity, most spent in Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan.

Samer Gul, chief of Logar's Charkh district, said the two

sailors, in a four-wheel drive armored SUV, were seen Friday a week

ago by a guard working for the district chief's office. The guard

tried to flag down the vehicle, carrying a driver and a passenger,

but it kept going, Gul said.

Gul said there is a well-paved road that leads into the Taliban

area and suggested the Americans may have mistaken that for the

main highway - which is much older and more dilapidated.

Elsewhere, violence continued Friday.

Four Afghan civilians were killed and three were injured when

their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Zabul province of

southern Afghanistan, provincial spokesman Mohammed Jan Rasoolyar

said. When police arrived at the scene, Taliban fighters opened

fire. One insurgent was killed, the spokesman said.

In Kandahar, a candidate in September's parliamentary election

escaped assassination Friday when a bomb planted on a motorcycle

exploded, city security chief Fazil Ahmad Sherzad said. The

Interior Ministry said a woman and a child were killed and another

child was wounded.