'Purpose-Built' Marine Unit Takes on Helmand Challenge by Chad Garland - Stars & Stripes
CAMP SHORAB, Afghanistan — A new batch of Marines has taken over an effort to build up Afghan security forces in restive Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold at the heart of the country’s opium trade.
Brig. Gen. Roger B. Turner Jr., commander of first rotation of Task Force Southwest, transferred authority to Brig. Gen. Benjamin Watson in a ceremony Monday at this base formerly known as Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion.
The Marine task force was the main effort of NATO’s Resolute Support mission last year, and will continue to be so in 2018, said Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, at a ceremony in which Turner passed the guidon to Watson.
“As we speak, [Afghan security forces] are conducting offensive operations in 13 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and it started right here in Helmand,” Nicholson said. “The Taliban, and especially their senior leadership, are seriously questioning their future here in Helmand.”
The province has been the site of some of the heaviest fighting, where many Marines gave their lives in the 16-year war. But after combat operations ended in 2014, security in the province faltered and the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, was on the verge of falling to the insurgents in 2016.
The local army corps was disintegrating under poor leadership and corruption, so NATO scrambled an ad hoc Army advisory group to help shore up government forces and rebuff the Taliban advance. Last spring, the Army handed that mission over to the Marines, the largest contingent the Corps had deployed to the country since the end of combat operations.
Since then, the task force of about 300 Marines has advised the army’s 215th corps and the national police’s 505th zone, supporting nine offensive operations throughout the province, helping wrest back key territory and bolstering security around the capital.
When the Marines first returned to the province, they were able to rekindle some old relationships, Turner said, and quickly built new ones that helped them get up to speed…