CAMP PENDLETON -- For the fourth time this week, a U.S. Marine from Camp Pendleton has been killed in Afghanistan. 23 year old Sgt. John Rankel of Speedway, Ind., was killed Monday by enemy gunfire in Helmand province in southwestern Afghanistan.
That area was once a Taliban stronghold and insurgent activity in the region has once again increased.
The Rankel family issued a statement saying that they "truly appreciate the prayers, care, concern and love their friends and others in the community have shown them since learning of John's death."
Rankel had served two tours in Iraq, and after reenlisting was deployed to Iraq with the 3rd battalion, 1st Marine regiment. When not deployed, he often spoke to school classes, according to his family.
Rankel's body is set to return to the U.S. on Wednesday, according to the website of the Dover (Del.) Air Force Base mortuary.
On Sunday, three other Camp Pendleton Marines were killed in Afghanistan.
The three, all from the 3rd Battalion, lst Regiment, 1st Marine Division, were killed Sunday in the same Afghani province as Rankel.
The three were identified as Sgt. Brandon C. Bury, 26, of Kingwood, Texas; Lance Cpl. Derek Hernandez, 20, of Edinburg, Texas; and Cpl. Donald M. Marler, 22, of St. Louis, Mo. No details about the deaths were released.
The deaths took NATO's death toll in June to 24, including 14 Americans, according to a count by The Associated Press based on official announcements.
Monday was the deadliest day of the year for the international force in Afghanistan with 10 deaths, including seven Americans, two Australians and one French Legionnaire.
They were killed in five separate insurgent attacks in the south and east of the country. Two civilian contractors training police, an American and a Nepalese, also died in a suicide attack Monday in Kandahar city.
Afghan officials said two other battles raged overnight between Afghan and NATO forces, in the provinces of Kandahar and Badghis in the northwest. No NATO casualties were reported.
The range of attacks served as a grim reminder the insurgents can strike throughout the country -- not simply in the south, which has become the main focus of the U.S.-led campaign.
U.S. President Barack Obama in December ordered 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to try to stem the rise of the Taliban, who have bounced back since they were ousted from power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
In the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, more than 1,000 people shouted "Death to America, Long Live Islam!" and burned an effigy of the pope in an angry demonstration against alleged Christian proselytizing in Afghanistan.
Afghan authorities on May 31 suspended operations of Church World Service, based in Elkhart, Indiana, and Norwegian Church Aid pending an investigation of allegations carried in an Afghan television report. Both charities deny spreading Christianity.
Mohammad Hashim Mayar, deputy director of the Afghan group that coordinates nongovernment organizations in the country, said officials at the intelligence service that is conducting the investigation told him Tuesday it was yet to be completed.
"We are waiting for the results impatiently," Mayar told AP Television News. "If we do not know the final result, the situation will get worse and the security of the expatriate and national workers of the NGOs will be endangered."
In Badghis, Afghan special forces backed by U.S. helicopter gunships battled insurgents for 12 hours overnight Monday in a remote Taliban-controlled region, killing 23 militants, said the commander, Maj. Zainudin Sharifi.
And Kandahar's provincial government said in a statement Tuesday that Afghan and NATO troops had battled Taliban militants in the Mianshen district, killing 14 insurgents.
The Interior Ministry said seven Afghan private security guards were killed two separate attacks in eastern Ghazni province.
As fighting escalates, the Afghan government is reaching out to the insurgents in hopes of ending the war.
Last week, President Hamid Karzai won endorsement from a national conference for his plan to offer incentives to the militants to lay down their arms, and to seek talks with the Taliban leadership.
The leadership has so far publicly shunned the offer, and the U.S. is skeptical whether peace can succeed until the Taliban are weakened on the battlefield.
4th SoCal Marine Killed This Week In Afghanistan
June Nato death toll rises to 24.
Sgt. John Rankel Credit: Indianapolis Star (June 8, 2010)
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
Los Angeles Times welcomes civil dialogue about our stories; you must register with the site to participate. We filter comments for language and adherence to our Terms of Service, but not for factual accuracy. By commenting, you agree to these legal terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.
Having technical problems? Check here for guidance.