Is the time coming for Marines in Afghanistan to spread out and fight insurgents in more provinces?
Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, commander of Marine forces in Afghanistan, made that case in interviews over the weekend, telling reporters that as the Corps continues to push insurgents out of population centers in Helmand province, they may need to expand where they are operating to places ranging from the Iranian border to neighboring Uruzgan province.
He added that a small number of forces under his command Marines already are operating in neighboring Kandahar province, where Army forces have been locked into a struggle with the Taliban around Kandahar City, the second largest city in Afghanistan.
“The insurgency itself has been pushed up into the mountains north of Kajaki,” said Mills, referencing a district in northern Helmand province during an interview with USA Today. “That probably needs to be dealt with. And, I think we’ll probably see a slight expansion into Nimroz province. I’m sure the force that replaces me won’t be smaller, but I think there might be some mission changes in terms of where they’ll operate.”
First: To check out the interviews, cruise here to the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, better known as DVIDS. We’ll forecast what Mills’ predictions mean for Marines in Afghanistan in next week’s print edition. For now, though, here are a few pertinent details to a variety of units:
The 26th MEU
Mills doesn’t say much specifically about the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, but notes that Marines “are still actively engaged in an area called Gereshk.” He has said previously that 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, the MEU’s ground combat element, would deploy to the upper Gereshk Valley. If so, it certainly sounds like the MEU is keeping busy.
Marines in Kandahar province
Mills says that he has “forces in a little piece of Kandahar province in order to relieve some of the Army forces there so they can concentrate on Kandahar.” He didn’t offer any additional details initially, but that’s certainly news to a lot of folks following along at home.
UPDATE: A Marine spokesman later clarified that the RC-South troops in Kandahar are British in, and deployed in Maiwand district, which borders Helmand. A commenter below suggests they’re from 2 Royal Welsh, which would make sense.
More Marines to the Iranian border
Mills says Nimroz province, to Helmand’s west, is a “province of import,” even though Marines haven’t operated there much recently. In particular, a border crossing between Nimroz and Iran needs policing, he says.
“There’s an awful lot of traffic that passes through there, illicit trade traffic that the government of Afghanistan needs to harness in order to get its proper share of that trade going back and forth,” he said. “There’s also a very good highway that runs through Nimroz province and there are some mineral deposits out there that can be exploited for the betterment of the people.”
Marines to other provinces
Things could get interesting this summer if details Mills laid out this weekend are any indication.
In addition to working in Helmand and Nimroz provinces, Marines could be sent to other, neighboring provinces as they expand their reach and “security bubble,” he says.
“We’re bound to look to the west into Farah province, we’re bound to look to the east a little bit into Kandahar to link up to with the Army over there, and also to the northeast where, again, beyond the Kajaki Dam up into Bagram and Uruzgan to begin to expand that security bubble around some key economic corridors that exist,” Mills said.
A substantial amount of conventional Marine forces operated in Farah before RC-Southwest existed. The province now belongs under RC-West, under Italian control.
Uruzgan is a rugged, mountainous province to Helmand’s northeast. Australian troops have patrolled the area, but there’s some question over whether that will remain the case.