US to deploy 300 Marines to Afghanistan's Helmand
Jan.8, NY: About 300 US Marines will deploy to Afghanistan's embattled southern Helmand province as part of a NATO mission to train and advise local forces - a move that the Taliban said it was a challenge that it welcomed.
The Marines will head to the poppy-growing province this spring in the latest sign that foreign forces are increasingly being drawn back into the 15-year conflict.
Task Force Southwest - led by Brigadier-General Roger Turner Jr - "will train and advise key leaders within the Afghan National Army 215th Corps and the 505th Zone National Police", a statement published late Friday by the US Marine Corps said.
"The Marine Corps has an operational history in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand province," the statement noted, adding the troops "will assist in preserving gains made together with the Afghans".
The soldiers will train and advise Afghan security forces pushing back against Taliban fighters who have taken most of Helmand after the end of NATO's combat mission and withdrawal of most US forces from the province in 2014.
Almost all of Helmand's districts, except for the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, are either heavily embattled or fully controlled by the Taliban.
"We really need air support in Helmand. I hope they [US] support our air force, since we don't have enough air power in Helmand," Rasul Zazai, a spokesman for the Afghan army's 215 Corps stationed in Helmand, told AFP news agency.
The Oslo Times International News Network