AFGHANISTAN: Marines ready to go if ordered.


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When the Pentagon rushed 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan in the spring, the orders were clear: the mission would be for seven months, no longer, and the Marines would not be replaced once their deployment was finished.

But with the Taliban, possibly in alliance with Al Qaeda, resurging, plans have changed. First, the stay of the Marines from Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., was extended for 30 days, pushing their arrival back home to late November.


Now there are growing indications that a different Marine unit, possibly including troops and equipment from several Marine bases, will replace the 2nd battalion, 7th regiment from Twentynine Palms and/or the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune.

In Iraq, Maj. Gen. John Kelly, the top Marine commander, appears on the verge of suggesting a significant drawdown of forces there, freeing troops for Afghanistan. He has already redeployed eight helicopters and Marines to fly and maintain them to Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Lt. Col. Rick Hall, commander of the Two-Seven, told reporters by telephone that he hopes that a replacement force is ready to continue the work his Marines have done in disrupting the Taliban and mentoring the Afghan National Police. The 30-day extension, he said, will allow a better transition.

Thirteen troops and an interpreter from the Two-Seven have been killed. Dozens more have been wounded. Not to send a replacement unit would be a major disappointment to his Marines, Hall said.

‘I think it would be quite a blow to all of us,’ he said.

The Marine Corps has tweaked training at its desert and mountain sites to be more ‘Afghanistan-centric.’ Hall said he sends back ‘lessons-learned’ virtually every day so they can be incorporated into training, particularly on how to work with the Afghans.

‘We know we’ve made a difference in the lives of these people,’ Hall said. ‘We’ve given them a sense of liberty.’


Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of the Marine Forces Central Command, with authority for Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a separate interview that no decision has been made on whether to replace Hall’s troops or those from Camp Lejeune.

But if the commander-in-chief and Defense secretary want a Marine replacement for Afghanistan, what is called a Marine air-ground task force -- infantry plus aircraft squadrons -- could be quickly assembled, Helland said.

‘Absolutely,’ he said.

--Tony Perry, at Camp Pendleton

Photo: Marines from the 2nd battalion, 7th regiment during a raid on a suspected Taliban outpost. Credit: Marine Corps