Marines heading back to Helmand despite Obama’s promise of ‘normal’ Afghanistan embassy presence
US Marines will again be on the ground in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, less than three years after the final troops pulled out of the conflict zone as part of a handover to Afghan forces.
Some 300 military personnel are due to return to the southern Afghan province this spring in an advisory role, the US Marine Corps confirmed on Friday.
It means adding to US military levels in the country at a time when the US president had predicted they would be at an all time low.
An expeditionary force led by Brig Gen Roger Turner Jr has been given a mandate to train and advise members of the Afghan National Army 21th Corps and the 505th Zone National Police.
“The Marine Corps has an operational history in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand Province. Advising and assisting Afghan defense and security forces will assist in preserving gains made together with the Afghans,” a US Marine Corps press statement said.
“This new deployment of Marines to Helmand reflects our enduring commitment to the people of Afghanistan.”
In 2014, the last marines withdrew from bases in the region alongside British armed forces in a long drawn out handover of Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion.
A bilateral security agreement signed with Afghanistan allowed almost 10,000 US army troops to remain in the nation as part of NATO-led security operations.
With just days left in the Barack Obama presidency, US military levels should have been drawing down further. In 2014, the president announced that US armed forces would only be used to support the embassy in Kabul.
“... by the end of 2016, our military will draw down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, just as we’ve done in Iraq,” he said.
However, in July last year the US president was forced to admit that the number of US forces will be higher than expected at the beginning of 2017 as the Afghan government continues to stave off terror attacks.
“As president and commander-in-chief, I have made it clear that I will not allow Afghanistan to be used as safe haven for terrorists to attack our nation again,” he said at the time.
He added that 8,400 US servicemen and women will remain in the struggling nation past the end of his term because Afghan security forces “are not as strong as they need to be.”
A total of 2,181 American military personnel have been killed during the US intervention in the region. Eleven US troops, including a 1st Class Sergeant, lost their lives in Afghanistan last year.