NPR photographer David Gilkey is embedded with U.S Marines in Southern Afghanistan. Seven days ago, they left their camp for what was supposed to be a 24-hour patrol. They ran into heavy fighting, and it's been too dangerous for them to turn back.
These photos showing the Marines engaged in battle were taken Wednesday in Mian Poshteh, Afghanistan.
A U.S. Marine engages in a firefight on July 8, in Mian Poshteh, a village in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.
The Marines left their base for what was supposed to be a 24-hour patrol, but heavy fighting developed and they have been unable to turn back. They have been in the field for more than seven days.
The Marines are engaged in "Operation Khanjar," designed to clear insurgents from the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban insurgency.
The Marines are from Golf and Echo companies, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, also known as "America's Battalion."
Many Marines have been flown out by helicopter due to heat exhaustion. There have been no fatalities since one Marine was killed on Thurs., July 2, on the first day of the assault.
The Marines sleep after a gun battle on July 8, in Mian Poshteh, Afghanistan.
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The Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment are part of Operation Khanjar, which was launched to take areas in the Southern Helmand province that Taliban fighters use as a resupply route. The goal is to clear insurgents from the volatile region before the nation's Aug. 20 presidential election and to restore stability to the region.
Gilkey is traveling with platoons from Golf and Echo companies, as well as with photographers from ABC and Getty Images. He says has spent the last 10 days walking in extreme heat and "sleeping in dust," without showering or brushing his teeth. The group has been shot at repeatedly, he reports.
The trucks that were supposed to bring their gear overland have yet to make it there. The word on the ground is that they were attacked, although there are no reports of casualties, he says.
He has nothing with him except the clothes on his back - and one working camera.
"This is the hardest, most amazing thing I've ever had to go through," he said. "We go out every day and get shot at."
Gilkey transmitted images to NPR through Getty photographer Joe Raedle, who has a working satellite phone.
He says no more Marines have been killed since the first day of the battle, although many have been flown out because of heat exhaustion. Helicopters are able to get in, but no trucks.
He hopes to get his gear within the next 24 hours. "Inshallah," he says.
Gilkey, along with NPR reporter Tom Bowman and producer Graham Smith, has been following the troops known as "America's Battalion" since they left North Carolina's Camp Lejeune in May. See the NPR series here.
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