- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 8, 2004

From combined dispatches

KABUL, Afghanistan — One U.S. Marine was killed and another injured in an overnight attack on a patrol in southern Afghanistan, military aides said yesterday, in the Marines’ first loss to hostile fire in Afghanistan.

The Americans were fired on by militants south of Tirin Kot, about 250 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, in Uruzgan province, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager.

Spokeswoman Capt. Cindy Beam said the Americans were attacked during a patrol through Uruzgan and Kandahar provinces.

She said the injured Marine underwent surgery at the U.S. military base near Kandahar city for “multiple gunshot wounds to the lower extremities.” Neither victim was identified.

A Marine force of 2,000 recently was deployed in Uruzgan to bolster the fight against resurgent Taliban-led militants. It was unclear if the two were part of that force. Marines also are operating in eastern Kunar province and guard facilities including the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The troops from the special operations-capable 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., began arriving in Afghanistan in late March and have set up a new base near Tirin Kot, the Uruzgan provincial capital.

Col. Mansager said the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan had swelled to 20,000 — up from about 11,000 late last year.

Part of the increase was reduced to “overlap” during a routine rotation of units, he said, but he declined to say how many would remain once the switch is complete.

Despite the extra forces, Taliban-led militants have carried out a fresh wave of attacks, killing dozens of Afghan troops. A Taliban spokesman claimed its fighters on Wednesday killed two British security consultants helping the United Nations organize elections due in September.

Uruzgan, the home province of Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, is widely considered a stronghold of the ousted hard-line militia. Some observers believe the one-eyed fugitive leader could be in the region.

A total of 121 U.S. soldiers have died, 53 of them in combat, since Operation Enduring Freedom began in Afghanistan in late 2001, toppling the Taliban regime for harboring al Qaeda.

The only Marines killed in Afghanistan previously were two who died when engine failure brought down their helicopter in January 2002 and seven more who died when a plane carrying fuel crashed in neighboring Pakistan the same month.

Four U.S. soldiers have been killed in action since Operation Mountain Storm, the military’s latest effort to crush Taliban and al Qaeda resistance in Afghanistan, began in early March.

Meanwhile, about 400 disabled Afghans and relatives of those killed in fighting against the 1979-89 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan gathered in front of the presidential palace in Kabul yesterday to demand government payouts and compensation from Russia.

The Afghans called for compensation as Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah began an official visit to Russia.

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