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Marines in Afghanistan to receive combat action ribbons, prepare for next Helmand deployment amid talks of troop withdrawal

A fourth Marine Corps rotation as part of Task Force Southwest is preparing to deploy, Marine officials confirmed, despite discussions earlier this year between the White House and Pentagon concerning the withdrawal of 7,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The small batch of Marine advisers in southern Afghanistan known as Task Force Southwest are currently the third iteration of a mission that has been ongoing since 2017 after largely departing the country in 2014.

Although the Marines primarily are serving as trainers and advisers, some on this rotation still saw combat after helping to repel a failed Taliban attack against Camp Shorabak on March 1, where as many as 20 Afghan security forces reportedly were killed by Taliban insurgents. There were no reported U.S. or coalition casualties.

“The deployment is still on-going, so final awards are still being processed, but they will include multiple Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, and Bronze Stars, as well as Combat Action Ribbons,” Marine Capt. John Roberts, a Task Force Southwest spokesman, told Marine Corps Times. “The latter coming from actions of Marines who successfully supported 215th Corps soldiers in repelling a failed Taliban attack against Camp Shorabak.”

Camp Shorabak is home to the Afghan army’s 215th Corps. There is a separate adjoining U.S. base with its own security perimeter that “never came under serious threat,” a U.S. Forces-Afghanistan spokesman said in March.

Marines advisers embedded with Afghan troops near the front of the fight against the Taliban are not usually engaging in direct combat, the top Marine said in 2018.

The Marines returning from rotation two saw no combat during their deployment to the historically volatile province.

The third U.S. Marine rotation will continue to trickle back to the United States over the next few months. Some Marines from Golf 2/25 and Lima 3/4 already have been replaced by Fox 2/25 and Bravo 1/7, respectively.

“The primary unit for Task Force Southwest — 2nd Marine Regiment — remains deployed and in theater until the turnover with Rotation 4,” Roberts said.

He couldn’t say when rotation three will officially end due to operational security concerns, but each deployment is approximately nine months. Rotation three has been downrange since October 2018.

Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Julian D. Alford is the current commander of Task Force Southwest, and Brig. Gen. David Odom will be the commander for the next rotation.

The Marine advisers with Task Force Southwest have been beneficial in expanding security around the Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Much of the province remains under Taliban control, however, according to a government watchdog report.

Each rotation has brought with it a batch of roughly 300 Marine advisers, with follow-on rotations expected to be about the same size.

“The primary mission will continue to be training, advising, and assisting our Afghan partners. We are assisting in setting conditions for a political settlement which safeguards our national interests — one way we do that is by investing in our partners," Roberts said.

The fourth rotation comes as Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, has been working to gather international support for an Afghan peace process as he intermittently meets with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar.

Despite the ongoing peace negotiations, the Taliban still announced the onset of its annual spring offensive this month.

“The Taliban say ‘a ceasefire is not part of the agenda.’ For us, peace is the agenda," Khalilzad said over Twitter last week. “I challenge Talibs to join other Afghans and work to make this the year of peace.”

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