Marine Corps photo
From Military Times:
Marines in Afghanistan handed over the Corps’ last remaining base there to Afghan National Army troops Sunday, marking the official end of the service’s primary work in support of the war.
Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan's Helmand province and the ajacent British airfield, Camp Bastion, were both transferred from International Security Assistance Force control to Afghan authority in a ceremony attended by Marine, U.K., and Afghan military leaders.
The transfer marks the close of the NATO and allied war mission in Regional Command Southwest, overseeing Helmand and Nimroz provinces. It also represent the start of a more rapid withdrawal for the Marines remaining in Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, Marines and British troops remaining in Helmand are tasked with maintaining security for Leatherneck and Bastion until they return to their home stations. ...
And that's that?
The base was used by Marines and other U.S. and coalition service members since the 2009 troop surge in Afghanistan. According to Reuters, the U.S. troops in Helmand will leave behind about $230 million worth of equipment, buildings and infrastructre for use by the Afghan troops as they depart.
Helmand province has been the location of some of the most costly battlegrounds of the war in Afghanistan, including Marjah and Sangin district. The latter region alone saw the deaths of 50 Marines and 100 British troops as they fought to weaken an insurgency fueled by a thriving drug trade from Sangin’s opium-producing poppy plants.
Over the course of the 13-year war, 458 Marines died supporting combat operations in Afghanistan, according to data from the Defense Casualty Analysis System.
And now? What next?
A report from Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times should provide a rough idea.
Elite Army Green Berets are knocking the performance of the Afghan National Army, telling war tales of its soldiers hiding and quitting the fight.
The Green Beret criticisms, contained in a U.S. Central Command "friendly fire" investigative file, provide a window into the flaws of a national army more than a decade in the making.
The Special Forces soldiers gave poor marks to the institution that is supposed to keep Afghanistan's democratically elected governments in power. The security force must rebuff an expected Taliban offensive, on its own, once all American troops leave after 2016.
The soldiers gave statements to investigators after going into battle June 8-9 in the Gaza Valley of Zabul province, northeast of Kandahar. The Green Berets told of Afghan soldiers refusing to fight and hiding among trees and behind a rock.
The Afghans had no ability to fight at night, a hallmark of American forces. Green Berets had to take the lead in clearing villages controlled by Taliban militants, even though the steady withdrawal of U.S. forces is at the stage where Afghans are supposed to be "on point" — that is, the first to engage the enemy.
The Green Beret's A-Team leader, a captain, made several unflattering statements. Investigators were probing the mission's end point, when a B-1B bomber mistakenly dropped two bombs on a "friendly" position, killing five American soldiers and the Afghan sergeant commander.
The captain said the operation got off to a rough start when the Afghan National Army provided fewer soldiers than requested.
"They do not always show up with the forces promised," he said. "This was not ideal."
After the insertion, "The detachment took point due to the ANA's inability to move during periods of darkness," the captain said.
At about the midpoint in village clearing, he said, "The ANA became stagnant and were hiding in the green zones," swaths of forested areas in an otherwise desert valley.
Then the Afghan soldiers simply quit.
"The detachment recommended to the ANA [commander] to move positions and continue clearing further down the valley," the Green Beret leader said. "The ANA claimed to have cleared the entire valley but our positions identified that they had cleared only half of the valley. According to the ANA [commander], that was as much clearance as they were going to conduct."
The captain added: "The ANA went into the green zone and were ineffective. We were only able to clear about half of the valley because of this."
After the bombs hit, the job became, first, to set up a security perimeter and then to recover remains. The grisly work became more difficult "due to ANA ineffectiveness," the officer said.
Another Green Beret told of a conversation with Afghan soldiers: "I then told him that we needed to set up a security perimeter. They instead huddled behind a rock."
Is such poor performance indicative of the ANA's general level of competence?
The Washington Times asked an Army officer who has had tours of duty in Afghanistan. "When we leave, the ANA will scatter like leaves in a stiff breeze," the officer said. ...