KABUL — 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 roadside and suicide 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, an expert 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 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.
In an interview broadcast Sunday, President Barack Obama called Britain's contribution critically important and said U.S. and British troops face a difficult summer ahead of elections in Afghanistan late 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."
Another American service member died Friday in the U.S. of wounds suffered in Afghanistan in June, said Lt. Cmdr. Christine Sidenstricker, who confirmed the deaths of the two Marines.
The three deaths bring to 104 the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year, a record pace. Last year 151 U.S. troops died in the country. Overall, 193 international troops have died in Afghanistan this year, according to an Associated Press count based on official announcements.