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Number of sailors in Afghanistan to dwindle

Apr. 13, 2013 - 10:59AM   |  
Navy-led provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan will disappear as coalition forces yield more control to locals. Here, Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Daniel Baudin, with PRT Farah, takes a break during a Jan. 24 patrol.
Navy-led provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan will disappear as coalition forces yield more control to locals. Here, Intelligence Specialist 1st Class Daniel Baudin, with PRT Farah, takes a break during a Jan. 24 patrol. (HMC Josh Ives / Navy)
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There are still nearly 4,000 Navy personnel in Afghanistan, but expect that number to dwindle as the Afghan government prepares to fully take over at the end of next year.

Sailors represent a small footprint in the current U.S. military force of 68,000, which will shrink to a fraction of that after the 2014 handoff and withdrawal of most U.S. troops.

The 3,930 sailors in Afghanistan include more than 1,400 filling individual augmentee billets, about 670 Navy Seabees, 100 officers and 430 enlisted with Marine units and an undisclosed number of sailors with naval special warfare units, according to Naval Forces Central Command. The vast majority of non-IA personnel are dispersed throughout the provinces in small units or individual assignments.

The figures don’t include sailors on aircraft carriers and ships in the Arabian Sea or Arabian Gulf that may be supporting operations in Afghanistan.

Many downrange sailors are assigned to six Navy-led provincial reconstruction teams — multiservice units that help with economic development, self-governance, security and other local support.

But the PRT mission is going away as the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan prepares to hand over control. For example, PRT Kandahar is preparing to shutter in mid-April, earlier than expected. And PRT Khost is gearing up to come home, too.

Sailors in Afghanistan have been performing a wide range of roles, from medical and detainee handling to training and advising of Afghan security forces and serving in headquarters billets.

“The Navy is a crucial partner in both parts of the Afghanistan mission: providing an opportunity for the government of Afghanistan to establish a secure foundation for democracy and helping bring security and stability to the people of Afghanistan,” 5th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Marissa Myatt said via email.

Much as it did in Iraq, the Navy has relied on IAs to fill critical billets. The force “will be reducing its total to less than 500 IA sailors” by fiscal 2015, Myatt said.

The IA presence peaked in December 2010, when the Navy had about 2,300 sailors and officers deployed in Afghanistan.

Seabees have helped construct and maintain large forward operating bases and smaller patrol bases. They’ve built roads, utility infrastructure, command facilities and ranges, and they continue to assist with local communities.

At its peak in 2010, the Navy had 2,400 Seabees in Afghanistan. The Seabee force is likely to hold steady at around 670 for the rest of year and through 2014, Myatt said.

This spring, two Seabee units continue to operate in Afghanistan, Myatt said. More than 450 sailors with Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 15, a reserve unit, are working from Forward Operating Base Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan. The battalion, based in Belton, Mo., deployed to Afghanistan this spring and is expected to return home this year ahead of the unit’s scheduled decommissioning in October.

The battalion has a detachment of 90 Seabees supporting the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan based in Bagram. Also in Bagram is a detachment of 130 personnel from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4 who are supporting special operation forces there.

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