The Darkside is coming home.
Third Battalion, 4th Marines, will return to their base at Twentynine Palms, Calif., next week following a trying seven-month deployment in Afghanistan. The unit saw heavy combat while patrolling The Upper Gereshk Valley and Nahr-e Saraj district, an area of northern Helmand province just south of volatile Sangin district.
Five* members of the battalion died and dozens more were wounded during the deployment, Marine officials said in a news release announcing the unit’s return to California. They handed over control of the area to a joint Afghan-British force headed by 42 Commando, a Royal Marine unit, a move Marine Corps Times forecasted in this story.
It’s one of the first parts of a U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan that will reduce the amount of Marines in Helmand and neighboring Nimroz provinces from about 20,000 service members this summer to 18,000 by the end of the year. An additional 4,000 to 6,000 Marines could be slashed in Afghanistan by the end of 2012, Maj. Gen. John Toolan, the top commander there, told Marine Corps Times last month.
The BBC embedded with 3/4 this summer, publishing reports like this one that made it clear their area of operations had its fair share of danger.
“Every time we leave the wire we get shot at or find an IED, either with our engineers or by treading on it,” one Marine is quoted as saying. “The Taliban have freedom of movement and we can’t engage until they’ve engaged us first. Sometimes it’s hard to see what we’re supposed to accomplish out here.”
A memorial service will be held at Twentynine Palms on Oct. 27 to honor 3/4’s fallen Marines.
*UPDATE: Using information provided by the Marine Corps, this blog entry initially reported that three Marines with 3/4 died during the unit’s deployment. The correct number is five. This blog entry was revised to reflect the correction.