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article imageU.S. to send 300 Marines to Helmand province in Afghanistan

By Ken Hanly     Apr 19, 2017 in Politics
About 300 U.S. marines are already en route to Afghanistan to help Afghan troops keep more Afghan territory from falling under the control of the Taliban in Helmand province in the south of the country.
The II Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune North Carolina will travel to Afghanistan. This will be the largest Marine deployment to the country since 2014 when the U.S. combat mission known as Operation Enduring Freedom wound down and officially ended. The Marines will be in Helmand province by the end of April, as Task Force Southwest. They will be replacing the Army's Task Force Forge. The Marines will be charged with training the Afghan National Army's 215th Corps as well as the 505th zone National Police. They will train them in marksmanship, indirect fire, small-unit tactics as well as other skills according to officials.
As more U.S. troops become involved in Afghanistan, US casualties are bound to increase. In an apparent insider attack, three U.S. soldiers were shot in March and in February a special forces soldier suffered severe injuries in battle. Colonel Matthew Reid noted in January: “Make no mistake, though we are no longer in a combat role in Afghanistan, it is still a combat environment. As Marines, we train and deploy with a combat mindset.” Although the mission is advisory it is quite possible that the group will find themselves involved in combat situations.General David Petraeus who led U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 told the Marine Corps Times that the 300 Marines could make a difference in the province and could reverse the momentum in the battle with the Taliban. The province is astride the key Ring Road that connect the south and west of the country to the capital Kabbul.
The marines are returning to the province as security has become worse according to Peter Bergen, a military analyst and vice-president of the New America think tank. Bergen said that U.S. military commanders claim that the Taliban control or contest a third of the population of about ten million people. The Afghan troops have had soaring casualty rates as they engage with the Taliban. Bergen said that the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan should be open-ended with no arbitrary dates to withdraw troops:“I think that was one of the problems the Obama administration had: announcing withdrawals that came and went and really made no sense from any kind of point of view. They tended to undercut the government. They also, obviously, were really helpful to the morale of the Taliban.”
Much of the area that US troops captured three years ago including Sangin have been captured by the Taliban. Nearly 50 U.S. marines died fighting to capture Sangin. Caitline Forrest, an Afghan expert with the Institute for the Study of War said that the Taliban are now able to launch offensives against strategic cities such as Kandahar, Lashkar Gah and Tirin Kot.
Forest said that given the current strength of Afghan security forces and U.S. support it is unlikely that the Taliban will be militarily defeated and they will be unwilling to seek a political solution while they have the upper hand. The Taliban also demand that foreign troops leave Afghanistan before they will agree to a peace treaty. Forrest said: “They’re winning the war. They’re winning actual terrain and population control. They have no incentive to actually go to the table, especially as they are getting additional support from other malign regional actors, such as Russia and Iran.”
The U.S. has been stepping up its involvement in Afghanistan and recently dropped the huge Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) on a series of caves and tunnels used by the Islamic State. The bombing was condemned by former Afghan president Hamid Karzai who called it an "an immense atrocity against the Afghan people." He claimed that the US is using Afghanistan as a testing ground for new weapons. Back in late March General Nicholson said that up to 5,000 more troops were needed in Afghanistan to break the stalemate with the Taliban. As shown on the appended video the first announcement about the Marine contingent was announced back in January.
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