KABUL (AFP/Reuters) - July 2009 has become the deadliest month for foreign troops fighting an eight-year war in Afghanistan, as Taliban guerrillas hone their bombing techniques and Westerners struggle in the harsh climate. A month before Afghanistan goes to the polls for the second time to elect a head of state, British and US troops are pressing some of the biggest assaults of the war by storming Taliban bases in previously no-go southern areas. The US military has spoken about pockets of resistance but officials say the British, whose apparent equipment shortages have sparked huge debate at home, have encountered some of the deadliest combat. The independent website icasualties.org, which calculates military losses in Afghanistan and Iraq, put the number of dead in the Afghan war at 48 so far this July, topping the previous record of 46 in both June and August 2008. In less than seven months, 204 foreign troops have died in Afghanistan, compared with 294 in the whole of 2008, 232 in 2007 and 191 in 2006. The top US commander recognised that Taliban were now better organised, warning that troops faced a crucial 18-month battle to help stabilise Afghanistan. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the latest operations in southern Helmand province were only just beginning, in an interview with the BBCs Arabic TV service. Mullen said the US may have taken too long to cut Afghan civilian casualties but even junior troops now understand protecting ordinary Afghans is paramount. After visiting Kandahar Air Field, he gave an upbeat assessment of the prospects for success against the Taliban, saying that he was pleased the Marines had not caused any civilian casualties in their push into the Helmand River valley over the past few weeks and British forces had reported very few in their simultaneous operation further north. We did kill too many civilians, he told reporters travelling with him. One is too many. Mullen claimed troops were clearly following that guidance in the current operations in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold. We cannot succeed here without taking care of the Afghan people, he told US soldiers at Forward Operating Base Ramrod, a site in Kandahar province fortified by giant tubs of sand topped with coils of barbed wire. Although he expressed confidence that there were sufficient resources in Helmand to hold areas taken by troops from the militants, the head of the British Army, General Richard Dannatt, has called for more troops on the ground. Talking to BBC, he said the extra 700 troops should stay on after the elections and that Britain may need to deploy more soldiers for up to 18 months until the Afghan army is ready to take on greater responsibility. About 4,000 US Marines, backed by hundreds of Afghan forces, were dropped behind Taliban lines on July 2. About 3,000 British troops have been pressing Operation Panthers Claw slightly further north since June 23. Makeshift bombs, known in military parlance as improvised explosive devices (IEDs), have also become increasingly sophisticated, and the cause of death of about 80pc of soldiers killed in the Afghan insurgency, officials say. US military deaths are also fast approaching their highest levels of the war, with at least 23 killed in combat so far this month. September 2008 was the worst month for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, with 26 killed in action.