Marines Face IEDs in Afghan Offensive

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Over the last month, some 4,000 U.S. Marines have taken part in Operation Strike of the Sword in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province.

The operation has met with success, but at a price. Twenty-two Marines have been killed so far.

They landed at daybreak on July 2 in the largest military offensive since the battle of Fallujah. Four thousand men from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary brigade along with 650 Afghan soldiers descended on the Helmand River valley south of Kandahar.

The aim of the operation has been to secure the area from Taliban militias in the weeks leading up to next month's Afghan elections.

It is a big job since many areas have been under Taliban control for years. The biggest threat the Marines have faced has been dealing with improvised explosive devices. IEDs are easy to make and even easier to bury, considering that there is only one paved road in the entire province. But the Marines say the local population has been mostly helpful.

"So far, from what I've seen, they want us here," PFC Ryan Martin told CBN News. "They want to help us. They were telling us where IEDs were. Possible explosives in here. Possible weapons caches. So they want us to help, and that's what we're here to do."

Corporal Derrick Unitowski survived an IED blast during a mission to re-take a key strongpoint in Helmand province.

"It was pretty scary," he said. "I'm not going to lie. (I bounced) pretty much like a pinball in a pinball machine."

General Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of all U.S. forces in the region, is working hard to reduce the number of IED fatalities - by ordering up thousands of newly-modified mine resistant vehicles. The vehicles are known as MRAPS. 

The giant, heavily armored vehicles were responsible for a marked decline in the number of IED deaths in Iraq, but until recently were too cumbersome for Afghanistan's extreme terrain.

The specially modified vehicles cannot arrive too soon. The offensive is heating up as increased numbers of troops aggressively root out insurgents all over the country. One unit repelled a Taliban ambush recently in the mountainous northern part of the country as they trained Afghan National Army troops. Luckily, no Coalition forces were seriously wounded.

Commanders on the ground warn that this is not a short-term mission, but only the start of a much bigger push they hope will turn the tide of the war in Afghanistan.

As the Marines in the south continue to combat temperatures as high as 130 degrees, nobody there thinks victory will come easy.

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Chuck Holton

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