2,200 Marines’ Afghan tour extended
The Pentagon has extended the tour of 2,200 Marines in Afghanistan, after insisting for months the unit would come home on time.
The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is involved in combat operations in the volatile south, will stay an extra 30 days and come home in early November rather than October, Marine Col. David Lapan confirmed Thursday. Military leaders as recently as Wednesday emphasized the need for additional troops in Afghanistan.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, however, had said he did not intend to extend or replace the Marines in Afghanistan, calling their deployment there an extraordinary, one-time effort to help tamp down the increasing violence in the south.
Asked about the possibility of an extension in early May, Gates said he would “be loath to do that.” He added that “no one has suggested even the possibility of extending that rotation.”
Lapan said Thursday that commanders in Afghanistan asked that the Marines stay longer.
The Pentagon announced in January that the Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., was being ordered to Afghanistan largely because efforts to press other North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations to increase their troop levels at the time had failed.
At the same time, about 1,000 members of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, which is based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., were ordered to deploy. That unit has been used to train Afghan security forces.
In the last two months, the violence in Afghanistan has led to more U.S. and coalition casualties there than in Iraq, and June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began in late 2001.