By now, you may have seen an Associated Press report that highlighted some of the difficulties that will come with transitioning Lashkar Gah and other locations from U.S. control to Afghan security forces.
The story includes another detail from the field worth commenting on, however:
Residents routinely tell the Marines that they detest the insurgency but fear retribution if they cooperate with NATO forces. And all of them were aware that the Taliban would be around long after the coalition leaves.
Of the 30,000 coalition troops in Helmand, a number of Marines stationed in the province will leave by the end of the year and others may shift to eastern Afghanistan where NATO officials say more international terrorists are based.
Marines shifting to eastern Afghanistan? That’d be a marked change, considering Marines have been based in southwestern Afghanistan since returning to the war-torn country in 2008 with the deployment of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C.
There’s a running joke about Helmand province being “Marine-istan,” and it’s for good reason: Virtually all of the estimated 20,000 Marines are based there. Marine embedded training teams were based in eastern Afghanistan until last year, but they’ve all shifted to the southwest now, too.
Still, Marines returning to eastern Afghanistan would be more back to the future than anything else. Infantry battalions were deployed there through 2006, when soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division replaced 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, in Kunar province and the surrounding area.
In one notable operation of that deployment, 1/3 Marines took part in Operation Mountain Lion, in which soldiers and Marines stormed the notorious Korengal Valley. It began with 11 Marine and Afghan platoons landing helicopter landing zones at elevations of more than 7,000 feet above sea level.
The USA can only hope that the Afghan Army will bring a modicum of military success to this region in the fight against the insurgents. That success will depend upon the Afghan people assisting their own troops in the same way that our troops were supported. Albeit not perfect…boots on the ground in any army in Afghanistan from Alexander the Great to our own Marines have counted on that same tribesmen support.