HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – In the worst single attack on U.S. or coalition forces in Afghanistan this year, four Marines from a unit based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., were killed by a roadside bomb Saturday, the military reported. A fifth Marine was wounded in the attack.
Military spokesmen provided no details of the bombing pending notification of next of kin. The Marines, from the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, arrived in Afghanistan in April to help train and mentor struggling Afghan national police units in Farah and Helmand provinces in southwestern Afghanistan.
The attack came a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced that in May, the monthly total of American and coalition combat deaths in Afghanistan exceeded the total in Iraq for the first time. The casualties brought the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan to at least 44 so far this year.
The roadside bomb struck a Humvee in Farah province, where the Marine battalion operates bases in conjunction with Afghan police.
A United Nations survey released earlier this year said violence in 2007 had reached its highest level in Afghanistan since an offensive by the United States toppled the Taliban in 2001. Violence has continued at high rates this year as Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., have pursued and killed Taliban fighters along their infiltration routes in southern Helmand province.
The Taliban have grown increasingly bold in recent months, especially in the south and west, and near the extremists’ former stronghold, Kandahar.
On Friday, in a sophisticated attack that a Taliban spokesman said had been planned for months, insurgents blew open the gates of a prison in Kandahar. The jailbreak freed 870 prisoners, among them 390 Taliban members, Sayed Afgh Saqib, the police chief of Kandahar province, said in a telephone interview Saturday.