3 Marines Hurt by Explosive Device During Patrol of Kandahar Airport

Three Marines were injured Sunday when one stepped on an explosive device during a search for mines and booby traps at the war-ravaged Kandahar airport.

The three were providing security for a team of explosives experts when the accident occurred. One of the Marines lost a leg below the knee and was flown to a U.S. Air Force medical facility in the Persian Gulf region, said Marine spokesman Staff Sgt. Dan Hottle.

The other two were airlifted to Camp Rhino, about 70 miles south of Kandahar, suffering shrapnel and other minor wounds.

Names of the injured were not released pending notification of their families. The three are part of the Camp Pendleton-based 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Capt. David Romley of the 15th Expeditionary Unit said the explosive device may have been ceramic or plastic and thus not detectable by a metal detector.

Patrols of the airport buildings continued despite the accident, Hottle said.

Because of booby traps, Marines were told to use explosives to open locked doors rather than try to pry them open. "I can replace [explosives]. I can't replace your hand," Lt. Col. Jerome Lynes of Camp Lejeune, N.C., told the troops.

Marines took control of the airport Thursday night without resistance. Afghans on the ground appeared stunned and curious, then waved and fired weapons in the air in a show of support. Still, Brig. Gen. James N. Mattis has ordered that "force protection" remain a major concern as Taliban and Al Qaeda forces continue their retreat.

"These guys might try to make one big hit before they get out of town," said Maj. Tom Impellitteri. "The Marines have to remember: vigilance, vigilance, vigilance."

On Sunday, only one Afghan approached the perimeter of the airport. Given some clothes and food by Marines, he left quickly.

The Marines are shifting their base of operation from Camp Rhino--an abandoned Taliban facility in the middle of desert tracts--to Kandahar, although Marine officials say the Corps' involvement in the Afghan campaign is coming to a close.

The site of one of the fiercest battles of the war, the Kandahar airport, built with U.S. aid in the 1970s, is littered with craters and burned-out vehicles. U.S. military personnel have collected dozens of weapons, including surface-to-surface and air-to-air rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, handguns and machine guns, as well as unexploded U.S. ordnance. Many of the weapons are Chinese; others are Russian.