KABUL, Afghanistan -- An Afghan teenager fatally stabbed an American soldier in the neck as he played with children in eastern Afghanistan, officials said Monday, as the U.S. death toll rose sharply last month with an uptick in fighting due to warmer weather.
Last week's calculated attack shows that international troops still face a myriad of dangers even though they are increasingly taking a back seat in operations with Afghan forces ahead of a full withdrawal by the end of 2014.
Just one U.S. service member was killed in February -- a five-year monthly low -- but the American death toll climbed to at least 14 in March. By contrast, at least 67 members of the Afghan security forces were killed last month, compared with 42 in February.
Overall, the number of Americans and other foreign forces killed in Afghanistan has fallen as their role shifts more toward training and advising government troops instead of fighting.
But a series of so-called insider attacks on foreign troops by Afghan forces of insurgents disguised as them has threatened to undermine the trust needed to help President Hamid Karzai's government take the lead in securing the country.
The attack that killed Sgt. Michael Cable, 26, of Philpot, Ky., last Wednesday occurred after the soldiers had secured an area for a meeting of U.S. and Afghan officials in a province near the volatile border with Pakistan.
But one of two senior U.S. officials who confirmed that Cable had been stabbed by a young man said the assailant was not believed to have been in uniform, so it was not being classified as an insider attack. The officials said the attacker was thought to be about 16 years old. He escaped so his age couldn't be verified.
The soldier was playing with children outside when the attacker came from behind and stabbed him in the neck with a large knife, Khan said. Other guards nearby didn't immediately notice what had happened because there was no gunshot, and the assailant was able to flee to neighboring Pakistan, he added.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid identified the attacker as a 16-year-old local man named Khalid. He said Khalid was acting independently when he killed the soldier but had joined the Islamic militant movement since fleeing the scene.
The district official Khan did not provide a name or confirm the Taliban's claim.
In a success story for the Afghan government, the intelligence service announced that it had foiled a plan to attack the Sulma dam in the western province of Herat.
Agency spokesman Shafiqullah Tahiri said an Afghan man identified as Sayed Gul was arrested with about 1.5 tons of explosives. He blamed the Pakistani Taliban for plotting to bomb the dam in a bid to destabilize the country.