First Lt. Sean Conway, a member of the Marine-led Kajaki Police Advisor Team, talks with an Afghan Uniform Police officer at Outpost Qazi Kheyl near Kajaki on March 30. The Corps expects to bring some of its adviser teams home early. (Sgt. Bobby Yarbrough/Marine Corps)
The Marine Corps commandant said his service is in position to bring home some of its military adviser teams this summer, earlier than planned, in light of improvements made by the Afghan units they are assisting.
Gen. Jim Amos told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that the Corps also could bring home early the one-star general in Helmand province who oversees the Marine adviser teams. The commandant did not name him, but he is Brig. Gen. George Smith, the deputy commanding general for security assistance for Regional Command Southwest.
Each security force assistance advisory team, or SFAAT, includes about 25 to 30 service members, and trains Afghan army and police units across the country on a broad array of skills. They became the centerpiece of the U.S.’s efforts in Afghanistan last year, as Afghan forces took the lead in providing security for their own country.
In Helmand, where Marines have deployed thousands of personnel since 2008, Afghan forces are now capable of stopping Taliban fighters across the province, Amos said. In particular, districts in southern Helmand, including Marjah and Nawa, have maintained stability with Afghan forces in the lead providing security, he said.
“They haven’t called us for help from Lashkar Gah south in probably over a month,” Amos said, using the provincial capital as a landmark.
Insurgents have put up a much stronger fight in northern Helmand districts like Sangin, Musa Qala and Kajaki, but U.S. and Afghan defense officials have said Afghan forces have held their ground.
Amos’ comments, made at a Defense Writers Group breakfast, raise questions whether the Corps’ drawdown in Afghanistan could be expedited. Currently, there are about 7,200 Marines deployed there, the commandant said. That number is expected to dip this year, as the U.S. drawdown of forces across the country continues.
Currently, there are about 66,000 U.S. service members deployed as part of a coalition of more than 100,000 troops. By the end of the year, the NATO force is expected to be halved. By the end of 2014, all combat troops are scheduled to return home, leaving behind an adviser force across the nation that will likely number about 15,000, including 9,000 U.S. troops.
Even with the U.S. drawdown ongoing in Afghanistan, the Corps will keep two infantry units in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. Currently, those units are 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, out of Twentynine Palms, Calif., and 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. They provide a “shock absorber” force in case something bad happens, Amos said, and provide support to the adviser teams.