The small group of Marine advisers in Afghanistan known as Task Force Southwest could be on its final deployment to the war-torn region if President Donald Trump decides to pull the plug on the 17-year conflict.

NBC News reported that U.S. officials believe Trump will end America’s participation in the Afghan conflict before the 2020 presidential election.

The Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan, currently are in the midst of their third rotation to region since the Marines returned to the volatile province in 2017 after withdrawing from the country in 2014.

The Marine advisers have been vital to expanding the security belt around the beleaguered Helmand provincial capital city of Lashkar Gah and rebuilding security forces in the area.

But despite talks of withdrawal, the Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller has been singing praises of the Marine unit and its accomplishments.

"When General Watson briefed us today, and he was talking about General Scott Miller, who’s a great soldier and a really good friend of our Corps,” Neller said at a Marine Corps annual ground dinner in November.

“He said okay, we see what you’re doing we see what your manning is and he went back and told everybody else they had to manage their force management levels and everybody had to take a cut except Task Force Southwest. Let’s leave those guys alone, because they’re doing more with less. Which is what you’d expect from your Marines,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Benjamin T. Watson was the previous commander of Task Force Southwest, he handed the reins over to Brig. Gen. Julian D. Alford in fall 2018.

President Donald Trump has directed the Pentagon to withdraw 7,000 U.S. troops from the region ― nearly half the number currently on the ground there.

When pressed by a Marine during a late December visit to Afghanistan about the pending withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, the top Marine said he had “no idea” on the specifics of when and whether troops would be coming home, the Wall Street Journal reported.

It’s been another dismal and bloody year for Afghan security forces. U.S. officials continue to note the conflict is in a stalemate while body counts for Afghan forces continue to rise.

Reuters reported that a new round of peace talks are slated to kick off in January in Saudi Arabia between the Taliban and U.S.

This is an excerpt from “19 Things You Need to Know in 2019,” in the 12-31 print edition of Marine Corps Times.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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