Hundreds of Marines are set to deploy to Afghanistan as President Barack Obama prepares to leave office and hand over the reins to GOP President-elect Donald Trump.
These 300 Marines, as part of Task Force Southwest, are heading to Helmand province in southern Afghanistan in the spring, the site of bitter and relentless skirmishes over the last decade with the Taliban.
“We’re viewing this as a high-risk mission that really requires training that is going to ensure that our Marines are capable of countering a full-spectrum threat,” said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Roger B. Turner Jr., according to The Washington Post. “We’re not in any way viewing this as a non-combat mission or anything to take lightly.”
The deployment comes at a time when the Taliban controls more territory than any time since the U.S. invasion in 2001. Retaking Helmand province has been the greatest success of the Taliban, as that area of Afghanistan was home to thousands of U.S. troops as recently as 2010-2011.
But Obama pulled Marines home in October 2014, leaving Afghan forces to fend for themselves, who have since failed tremendously to fight off the Taliban.
The Taliban now controls about 85 percent of Helmand.
According to Turner Jr., the Marines heading to Helmand are seasoned fighters, 150 of whom have already fought in the provence. Most of the Marines hail from the 6th Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
This time, they’ll closely advise officials from the Afghan army and police force. It’s unclear whether the Marines will accompany Afghan forces during missions.
“We had to pull very senior Marines in all functional areas to match up with their counterparts and really provide a level of expertise,” Turner said. “Because, the Afghans have made some good progress on a lot of these areas. . . . It’s not a simplistic mission. They’ve really gotten to a point where our level of advising needs to be pretty sophisticated to match where their capabilities are.”
Marine Corps Lt. Gen. William D. Beydler, commander of Marine Forces Central Command, confirmed that multiple deployments to the region are likely in the Marine Corps’ future.
“We will do this mission as long as we are required,” Beydler said. “We are preparing for that now.”
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