By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 26, 2013 – Marine Corps security handoff and equipment recovery efforts in southern Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force are both ahead of schedule, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos said here today.
Amos told the Defense Writers Group that conditions in Helmand province, which he visited last week, are “pretty remarkable” and “dramatically different” from what they were even six months ago.
“I was there at Christmas, and I was there in February, … and we just got back again,” he said. “Even from Christmas, the focus began to [be] the advise-and-assist teams.” He noted the 28- or 30-member teams drawn from across the coalition’s forces worked with individual Afghan army and police kandaks, or battalions, and their headquarters.
“We brought teams in last fall, and we reorganized the structure” in Helmand from seven Marine Corps infantry battalions to two, Amos said. That demonstrates how well the Afghan army has been doing, he added -- “really well.”
The advise and assist teams had been forecast for an intense effort through this year, Amos said, but “we missed the mark on that” because Afghan forces have improved more quickly than expected.
Some teams will be pulled out in the coming months, he added, and the advise-and-assist mission has gone well enough that in southern Helmand, Afghan army and police forces haven’t asked for the Marines’ operational help in more than a month.
“It’s the same thing going up north, except the Taliban have gotten a little bit frisky trying to test the Afghan National Army in places like Sangin,” he said.
Over the next year, Marine forces in Helmand will focus on advising at the corps, brigade and provincial government level, Amos said. He added the remaining two infantry battalions also will serve as a transitional “shock absorber” for Afghan forces’ logistics, sustainment and training.
“This is what we would hope to happen, but we didn’t think it would happen this soon,” he said.
Responding to a question on how much Marine Corps equipment would remain behind after the major U.S. troop withdrawal ends in 2014, Amos said that barring any designated for handover to Afghan forces, none will. After the war in Iraq ended, he noted, the Marine Corps learned its lesson.
In Helmand, Amos said, equipment went home along with the Marines, estimating that 65 to 70 percent of Marine Corps gear already is out of the country. “We’ve been flying equipment out for a year and a half. … These lots are empty. They’re clean,” he said.
Transition in Helmand is ahead of schedule, and nobody is running for the doors, Amos said. “We’re right where we need to be,” he added.