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2 Marines slain in southern Afghanistan

The U.S. troops are killed in a bomb blast in Helmand province, where a massive offensive is underway to root out Taliban fighters.

July 13, 2009|Associated Press

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — A bomb blast killed two Marines in Afghanistan's south, where thousands of American troops have deployed in a massive operation to oust Taliban fighters from the country's opium poppy region, officials said Sunday.

About 4,000 Marines moved into Helmand province this month, the largest Marine operation in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. They have met little head-on resistance but remain vulnerable to guerrilla tactics such as suicide and roadside bombings.

"These terrorist attacks are hard to prevent, can be carried out by a few individuals and do not require a military force capable of confronting the Marines," said Arturo Munoz, a Rand Corp. expert on the tribal environment in Helmand province.

The two Marines were killed Saturday in Helmand. Military officials did not release any other details or give a specific location. The military initially reported four Marines had died but later revised the figure, saying the deaths were mistakenly double-counted.

The U.S. casualties took place after eight British deaths in Helmand in a 24-hour period ending Friday, which triggered debate in Britain about its role in Afghanistan. Britain has now lost more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

In an interview broadcast Sunday, President Obama said U.S. and British troops face a difficult summer ahead of elections in Afghanistan next month.

"We've got to get through elections," Obama told Sky News. "The most important thing we can do is to combine our military efforts with effective diplomacy and development, so that Afghans feel a greater stake and have a greater capacity to secure their country."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan will help keep extremist groups from launching attacks in Britain.

The latest deaths bring to 106 the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year, a record pace. Last year, the U.S. death toll was 155. Overall, 195 international troops have died in Afghanistan this year, according to the independent website icasualties.org.

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