A new task force of roughly 300 Marines deployed to the volatile Helmand province in Afghanistan will be advising their Afghan counterparts closer to the front lines of combat.
The Marines will begin advising Afghan security forces at the kandak, or battalion level. Previously the advise-and-assists mission was limited to the brigade level and above, officials said.
The new rotation of Marines arrived in Helmand in mid-January and conducted a transfer of authority with Task Force Southwest, which had been deployed to the region since late spring.
Known as Task Force Southwest 18.1, the small group of Marine advisers will focus on training Afghan security forces at both the brigade and kandak level, according to 1st Lt. Kathleen Kochert, a spokesperson for the Task Force Southwest 18.1. That means more Marines will be pushed closer to the front lines of combat to assist Afghan forces as they continue to retake ground lost to the Taliban.
The first rotation of Marines to Helmand since the Corps’ departure back in 2014, the initial Task Force Southwest made considerable progress in reorganizing and training their Afghan counterparts, to include bolstering the force with new skills such as training Afghan air tactical controllers, conducting airdrop resupplies and air medical evacuation to help whisk wounded troops off the battlefield.
“The second rotation brings additional capabilities and additional capacity, so they’re going to be able to do everything that we did, plus they’re going to have additional capability to go down to the brigade levels and below,” said Brig. Gen. Roger B. Turner, the commander of the first rotation of Task Force Southwest.
Kochert said the new unit intends to “to build on the exceptional partnership that Brig. Gen. Turner and his team in the first rotation developed with our ANDSF partners while evaluating an ever-changing and dynamic operating environment.”
It’s a key part of Army Gen. John Nicholson’s strategy to break what he deemed a stalemate in the nearly 17-yearlong conflict when he briefed lawmakers back in February. Gen. Nicholson is the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The ability to move advisers to a lower tactical level will mean more support like air and artillery power for Afghan forces, which prior to the rapid drawdown of coalition and U.S. forces came to rely on the abundance of air and artillery strikes provided by coalition assets during the height of the war.
But advising at the kandak level does not necessarily mean the Marines will be kicking in doors or leading patrols reminiscent of the bloody rural fighting seen in Helmand several years ago during the Corps’ push to purge Taliban militants from places like Marjah and Sangin.
“TFSW does have the authority to accompany our Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) partners on operations, but we don’t see the need to do so at this time since the ANDSF are aggressively taking the fight to the enemy.” Kochert told Marine Corps Times. “The leadership of TFSW will continue to evaluate our mission and the operating environment, and retains the authority to conduct accompanied missions should the need arise.”
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.