KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Three U.S. Marines were wounded — one seriously — when one of them stepped on a land mine Sunday at the airport outside the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
One of the Marines was carried on a stretcher and two, with bandaged hands, walked to a UN-H1 Huey helicopter for the 50-minute flight to a medical facility at Camp Rhino, the desert airstrip seized by the Marines on Nov. 25.
Capt. David Romley, a Marines spokesman, said all three were in stable condition at Camp Rhino but that one could lose a leg.
The anti-personnel mine went off at the southern end of the runway at about 1 p.m. as the Marines were sweeping the airport for explosives, Romley said. He said the area already had been swept for mines, but that the one which exploded may have been nonmetallic, making it harder to detect.
Parts of the airport and surrounding area are littered with ammunition and unexploded bombs as well as land mines that virtually surround the base.
"We could look for ordnance [at the airport] every day for a year and not uncover all of it," Romley said.
After the explosion, it took 65 minutes to evacuate the wounded because explosives teams had to make sure there were no other mines, he said.
Authorities would not identify the wounded Marines until their families could be notified.
The Marines moved into the airport on Friday, and plan to shift most of their operations there from Camp Rhino, 70 miles southwest of Kandahar.
After sweeping the runway, they declared it fit for use, and the first six C-130 planes landed Sunday, carrying troops and communications equipment, including satellite dishes.
The Marines also completed work Sunday on a detention facility for any prisoners-of-war who may be captured in Afghanistan, Romley said.
Disposal crews detonated nine caches of weapons Saturday in areas around the airport. The munitions included air-to-air rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, handguns, machine guns and large BMG21 surface-to-surface rockets.
They also detonated unexploded bomblets from U.S. cluster bombs dropped on the area.
Sgt. Michael J. Gattis said some explosives were even found among medicine at the airport's health clinic.
"They were storing munitions inside the hospital, intermingled with the medicines," Gattis said. "Everywhere ... it looked like they left in a hurry. It was a mess."
The now-vanquished Taliban militia came under heavy bombing at Kandahar's airport when U.S. forces began an intensive airstrike campaign in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The Taliban fled Kandahar, their birthplace and last stronghold, on Dec. 7.