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Boats 04-29-2017 07:59 AM

Marines take over advising mission in Helmand
Marines take over advising mission in Helmand
By E.B. BOYD | STARS AND STRIPES - Published: April 29, 2017

(Photo's on site only)

Members of Task Force Southwest prepare to raise the Marine Corps flag at a transfer of authority ceremony at Camp Shorab, Afghanistan, Saturday April 29, 2017. The Marines are taking over the Helmand train-and-advise mission from Task Force Forge, an Army unit (pictured in the background) which has been in Helmand since last year. E.B. BOYD/STARS AND STRIPES - E.B. BOYD/STARS AND STRIPES

CAMP SHORAB, Afghanistan — For the first time since the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan in late 2014, U.S. Marines returned to Helmand province en masse Saturday as the 300-person Task Force Southwest took over the training and advising mission there.

Unlike its Marine predecessors in the region, Task Force Southwest is not a combat unit. It’s an advisory team made up of troops from different units.

The transition of authority is a routine changeover that does not change the overall number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Task Force Southwest is replacing a slightly smaller Army unit called Task Force Forge, which deployed to Helmand last year.

“We are excited to be back in Helmand, and we’re pleased to assume this mission,” said Task Force Southwest commander Brig. Gen. Roger Turner Jr. at the transfer-of-authority ceremony at Camp Shorab. Camp Shorab stands on land previously occupied by Camp Bastion, which was dismantled and vacated by NATO forces during the 2014 troop drawdown.

The transfer of authority Saturday comes as Afghan forces across the country are struggling to hold off the Taliban. In the intervening two years, the group has made key gains in strategically important provinces like Helmand, including taking over large parts of Sangin district, where many Marines died during the surge of 2009-2010.

Two key coalition goals this year are to prevent Afghan forces from letting any provinces fall completely into insurgent hands and to stem the overall loss of territory.

Helmand is a prime focus of the Taliban. It lies along key smuggling routes, and its poppy fields put money into the group’s coffers.

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