These US Marines are going back to their old battlefields in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan’s turbulent Helmand province, US Marines are rekindling old relationships and identifying weaknesses in the Afghan forces that the Trump administration hopes to address with a new strategy and the targeted infusion of several thousand American forces.

Returning to Afghanistan’s south after five years, Marine Brig. Gen. Roger Turner already knows where he could use some additional US troops. And while he agrees that the fight against the Taliban in Helmand is at a difficult stalemate, he said he is seeing improvements in the local forces as his Marines settle into their roles advising the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps.

Turner’s report on the fight in Helmand will be part of a broader assessment that Gen. Joseph Dunford will collect this week from his senior military commanders in Afghanistan.

Dunford landed in Kabul Monday with a mission to pull together the final elements of a military strategy that will include sending nearly 4,000 more U.S. troops into the country. He will be meeting with Afghan officials as well as US and coalition military leaders and troops.

Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Afghan Air Force Brig. Gen. Eng A. Shafi. DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro.

Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Afghan Air Force Brig. Gen. Eng A. Shafi. DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro.

The expected deployment of more Americans will be specifically molded to bolster the Afghan forces in critical areas so they can eventually take greater control over the security of their own nation.

The Taliban have slowly resurged, following the decision to end the combat role of US and international forces at the end of 2014. The NATO coalition switched to a support and advisory role, while the US has also focused on counter-terrorism missions.

Recognizing the continued Taliban threat and the growing Islamic State presence in the county, the Obama administration slowed its plan to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by the end of last year. There are now about 8,400 there.

But commanders have complained that the sharp drawdown hurt their ability to adequately train and advise the Afghans while also increasing the counter-terror fight. As a result, the Trump administration is completing a new military, diplomatic, and economic strategy for the war, and is poised to send the additional US troops, likely bolstered by some added international forces.

Jim Mattis scariest thing terrorists can imagine

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Photo: USMC

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will be in Brussels later this week and is expected to talk with allies about their ongoing support for the war.

While Turner said he has already seen improvements in the Afghan’s 215th Corps, he said adding more advisers would allow him to pinpoint problems at the lower command levels, including more brigades.

“The level and number of advisers you have really gives you the ability to view the chain on all the functional areas. The more areas you can see — you can have a greater impact on the overall capability of the force,” he told the Associated Press in an interview from Helmand Province. “If we had more capacity in the force we would be able to address more problems, faster.”

He said that although the Afghan forces have improved their ability to fight, they still need help at some of the key underpinnings of a combat force, such as getting spare parts to troops with broken equipment.

The seemingly simple task of efficiently ordering and receiving parts — something American forces do routinely — requires a working supply chain from the warehouse to the unit on the battlefield.

Kentucky Guardsmen train Afghans. DoD Photo by Lt.j.g. Bryan Mitchell

Kentucky Guardsmen train Afghans. DoD Photo by Lt.j.g. Bryan Mitchell

And Turner said that’s an issue that could be improved with additional advisers.

Other improvements, he said, include increasing the size of Afghanistan’s special operations forces and building the capacity and capabilities of its nascent air force.

The Afghan ground forces in Helmand, he said, have been able to launch offensive operations against the Taliban, including a recent battle in Marjah.

“I don’t think last year they could have taken the fight to Marjah like they just did,” he said. “They’re in a much better position that they were a year ago.”

But they are facing a resilient Taliban, whose fighters are newly financed, now that the poppy harvest is over.

Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan. | US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga

“Once they draw their finances, they start operations,” said Turner. “What we’ve seen so far since the end of May, when they made that transition, is a steady grind of activity across a number of places in the province.”

What has helped a lot, Turner said, is his Marines’ ability to renew old relationships with Afghan tribal elders, provincial ministers, and military commanders they worked with six or seven years ago.

Battalion officers they knew then are now commanders, and many government leaders are still in place.

“We obviously have a long commitment here in Helmand. It’s been good for the Marines to come back here,” he said. “This is a really meaningful mission. I think people realize that we don’t want to get into a situation where the kinds of pre-9/11 conditions exist again.”

TOP ARTICLES
This vehicle is bristling with weapons to shoot down Kim Jong-un's aerial menace

Whether the plane is carrying bombs, rockets, missiles, or some of Kim Jong-un's goons, the Hybrid BIHO will make sure they never get through.

That time two luxurious ocean liners fought an intense old-time naval battle

The German ship Cap Trafalgar disguised itself as the HMS Carmania to lure and destroy British merchant ships. Its first victim was the real HMS Carmania.

This is the dummy's guide to the rail gun

Designed to double the muzzle velocity of all naval artillery weapons to hypersonic speeds up to Mach 6, the Navy's rail gun system uses advanced technology that is a pain in the butt to understand

This is what Sikorsky thinks should replace the Blackhawk

The Defiant is fast, it can carry a lot of troops, and it's armed to the teeth.

How one vet learned to actually appreciate his deployment to Iraq

This veteran believes God used the Iraq war to fulfill Biblical prophesies, and he's written a four part series to explain it.

Combat Controller receives Air Force Cross for valor in Afghanistan

Air Force Staff Sgt. Richard Hunter was awarded the Air Force Cross Oct. 17 for actions during an eight-hour firefight in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan.

This is what Iran will do if the US pulls out of the nuke deal

President Trump is threatening to back out of the Iran nuclear deal — in direct opposition of the other five countries involved. Here is what Iran thinks.

5 military movies you should look out for in 2018

These are some of the handful of military-related movies hitting the screens next year that look like they could be worth the price of admission.

Why Hollywood prescribes pot to its veteran characters with PTS

A new Netflix comedy takes a lighthearted look at the growing use of medical marijuana to treat veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Does this picture show the US covertly moving SEALs into Korea?

The USS Michigan stopped in Busan for a "routine port visit," but pictures of the event suggest a more clandestine purpose that may involve US Navy SEALs.