- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2018

The first Marine Corps task force to deploy to southern Afghanistan’s violent Helmand province since the Corps pulled out of the region in 2014, officially ended their nearly yearlong mission on Monday.

Top brass from Marine Corps Task Force South West handed over command of U.S. military adviser operations in Helmand province to a new tranche of Marines, which will continue training and advising Afghan security forces in Helmand and elsewhere in southern Afghanistan, during a ceremony at Camp Shorab.

“Our partners really … stole the initiative from the enemy. They stole the initiative, and they never relinquished it,” Task Force Commander Brig. Gen. Roger Turner said shortly after the handover ceremony.

“Doing operation after operation in Nad’Ali, Marjah, Nawa, Sangin, Garmser, and have continued nearly continuous operations since last April,” the one-star general added in a task force statement.

The incoming Marine Corps task force, led by Brig. Gen. Benjamin Watson, will take over responsibility for U.S. adviser teams assigned to Afghan National Army 215th Corps and 505th Zone National Police. “We’re grateful for this opportunity — the opportunity to come to a place where we have history as a service, and as individuals,” Gen. Watson said.

The Marines’ continued presence in Helmand is yet another chapter in the Corps’ difficult and bloody history in an area long known as the Taliban’s spiritual heartland.

Helmand is “kind of part of the Marine DNA,” Gen. Turner told The Washington Times in March, as the task force completed final training for their deployment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

“We got a lot of history there, we have got a lot of Marines who have served there, [and] I think a lot of guys are chomping at the bit to get over there,” Gen. Turner said at the time.

Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province were the key targets for the Marines, as part of the Obama administration’s 2009 strategy to withdraw from Iraq and surge U.S. forces into Afghanistan. By the time the Marines and British forces handed over their main bases in Helmand, Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion, respectively, to Afghan control in 2014, over 380 Marines had been killed, according to Pentagon figures.

Beginning in the surge years 2009 and 2010 up until the Marines’ withdrawal five years later, Marine Corps casualties in Helmand accounted for nearly 18 percent of all U.S. combat fatalities across Afghanistan and over 90 percent of all Corps casualties since the beginning of the war in 2001.

In 2010 alone, 165 Marines were killed in combat operations in Afghanistan, mostly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

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