A task force of about 300 US Marines will be sent to southwestern Afghanistan this spring to help local troops fight the resurgent Taliban in Helmand province, where the militants have made significant gains in recent months.
The Marines will return to Helmand after a gap of three years, replacing other foreign troops and offering training and advice to the Afghan police and army.
“Advising and assisting Afghan defense and security forces will assist in preserving gains made together with the Afghans. This new deployment of Marines to Helmand reflects our enduring commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” said an official statement from the US Marine Corps.
Since US forces withdrew from Helmand in 2014, the province has witnessed significant advances by the Taliban. The militants have moved closer to the provincial capital Lashkargah after capturing several districts.
The Afghan Army has been asking countries contributing troops to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission to bolster the strength of forces in Helmand.
The deployment of the US Marine task force will reportedly last nine months. The US declared its combat mission in Afghanistan over in 2014 and most troops sent to the country are deployed for advising and assisting Afghan troops. However, the Marines being sent to Helmand are preparing to face risks, a senior official said.
Lt Gen William Beydler, commander of US Marine Corps Forces Central Command, told the Marine Corps Times: “Afghanistan remains a dangerous and dynamic environment. And our aim, training and advising the Afghan forces, is to preserve and build upon the gains they’ve made. Marines will face risk in this new assignment.”
The US has some 8,500 troops in Afghanistan, with most of them at key installations in Kabul and the main airfield in Bagram. Some of the troops are part of counter-terrorism operations, including those against Islamic State fighters in Nangarhar province.