Some 300 US Marines will head to Helmand province in Afghanistan this spring to help a NATO-led mission to train Afghan forces, the Marines said Friday.
The move puts Marines back in Helmand, who left in 2014 as NATO withdrew its forces and let Afghan troops lead the fight against the Taliban.
They were among the first US forces sent to Afghanistan after the 2001 attacks in the United States. Several thousand were deployed in Helmand, an opium-producing region, where they engaged in combat with the Taliban.
The administration of outgoing President Barack Obama had hoped to withdraw most US military forces from Afghanistan by now, leaving behind just a small force.
But the United States still has some 8,400 military personnel in the country, and is now returning the Marines to Helmand.
At the request of US Central Command (CENTCOM) and the US forces in Afghanistan, “approximately 300 Marines will deploy to Helmand Province Afghanistan in Spring 2017 in support of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission,” a statement from the Marine Corps said.
The Marines “will train and advise key leaders within the Afghan National Army 215th Corps and the 505th Zone National Police,” it added.
“Advising and assisting Afghan defense and security forces will assist in preserving gains made together with the Afghans.”
The Afghan army and police are struggling in their struggle against a resurgent Taliban.
Afghanistan is by far the world’s largest opium producer. The UN estimates 2016 production at 4,800 to 6,000 tons, up sharply from 3,300 tons in 2015, while cultivated areas have increased by 10 percent in one year.