- The Washington Times - Monday, July 13, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) | A bomb blast killed two U.S. Marines in Afghanistan’s dangerous 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. invasion. They have met little head-on resistance but remain vulnerable to guerrilla tactics like suicide and roadside bombs.

“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 specialist on the tribal environment in Helmand province with the Washington-based Rand Corp.

“I would expect the Taliban to avoid pitched battles with the Marines in order to avoid a large number of casualties,” he said. “This does not mean they will avoid violence.”

The two Marines were killed Saturday in Helmand. Military officials did not release any other details nor give a specific location. The military initially reported four Marines had died but later corrected the figure, saying the deaths were mistakenly double-counted.

The American casualties come after eight British deaths in Helmand in a 24-hour period ending Friday, triggering debate in Britain about its role in Afghanistan. Britain has now lost more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq.

Another American service member died Friday in the United States of wounds suffered in Afghanistan in June, said Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, who confirmed the deaths of the two Marines.

President Obama ordered 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan earlier this year to help put down an increasingly violent Taliban insurgency.

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