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Deaths of 7 Marine halts use of some mortar rounds

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 8:36 p.m.

HAWTHORNE, Nev. — A mortar shell explosion killed seven Marines and injured a half-dozen more during mountain warfare training in Nevada's high desert, prompting the Pentagon to immediately halt the use of the weapons until an investigation can determine their safety, officials said on Tuesday.

The explosion occurred on Monday night at the Hawthorne Army Depot, a facility used by troops heading overseas, during an exercise involving the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C. Several Marines from the unit were injured in the blast, authorities said.

The mortar round exploded in its firing tube during the exercise, Brig. Gen. Jim Lukeman said during a news conference at Camp Lejeune. He said investigators are trying to determine the cause of the malfunction.

The Pentagon expanded a temporary ban to prohibit the military from firing any 60mm mortar rounds until the investigation is complete. The Marine Corps said a “blanket suspension” of 60mm mortars and associated firing tubes is in effect.

The Pentagon earlier had suspended use of all high-explosive and illumination mortar rounds that were in the same manufacturing lots as ones fired in Nevada. It was not immediately clear whether more than a single round exploded, a Marine Corps official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The rescue was complicated by the remoteness of the site, which is favored because the harsh geography simulates conditions in Afghanistan.

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