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NATO Warns Afghan Civilians: 'Keep Your Heads Down'

An Afghan farmer watches as U.S. Marines from 1st Battalion, 6th regiment, Charlie company patrol around Huskers camp on the outskirts of Marjah in central Helmand, 26 Jan 2010

NATO's top civilian representative in Afghanistan is urging villagers in Helmand province to "keep your heads down" when coalition forces launch a major offensive on a southern Taliban stronghold.

Britain's Mark Sedwill Tuesday issued the warning to civilians who do not flee before a NATO assault on the town of Marjah in Helmand province.

The Associated Press later reported that militants are preventing some people from leaving the town and have mined the surrounding roads.

The town of Marjah, with a population of 80,000, is a major opium trafficking hub and has long been under Taliban control.

In recent days NATO forces have been urging residents to leave the town to try to minimize civilian casualties during the impending attack. NATO says it has sufficient resources to feed and house people displaced by the offensive.

The assault will be the first major military operation in Afghanistan since U.S. President Barack Obama ordered a surge of 30,000 extra troops.

Meanwhile, NATO officials say two service members were killed Tuesday in separate attacks in Afghanistan. An American soldier was killed by a bomb in the south while the other soldier died in a battle in the east.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.