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Marines to be First in Afghan Surge

President Obama's Afghan surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops will include an immediate infusion of California-based Marines, with the first elements set to be on the ground in southern Afghanistan around Christmas.


December 01, 2009
Military.com|by Christian Lowe

The Leathernecks will bolster a force of about 8,000 Marines who deployed to the region in July to knock back Taliban gains in Helmand and Kandahar provinces where insurgents linked to Mullah Mohammed Omar threaten Afghanistan's second largest city.

"The first troops out of the door are going to be Marines," said Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway, according to the Washington Post. "We've been leaning forward in anticipation of a decision. And we've got some pretty stiff fighting coming."

Sources also tell Military.com that the Army will likely send three additional Infantry Brigade Combat Teams, or about 9,000 more combat forces and 5,000 support troops -- including police and military trainers, bomb squads and engineers -- as well as around 7,000 headquarters staffers to manage the war more effectively.

The Soldiers will likely deploy to eastern Afghanistan, which is under the command of Maj. Gen. Curt Scaparrotti from the 82nd Airborne Division. According to Gen. McChrystal's strategic review, RC-East includes the key provinces of Khost, Paktia and Paktika where Taliban insurgents are vying for control.

Gen. Conway, who recently traveled to the region, said that the Corps is poised to send as many as 9,000 Marines to bolster efforts in southern Afghanistan, where the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade has been deployed since July to back up British, Canadian and Dutch forces who command operations there. McChrystal's analysis shows that Taliban insurgents led by Mullah Mohammed Omar are making a strong push to control Kandahar, the country's second largest city and a key logistics hub for RC-South forces.

"The [Taliban] has been working to control Kandahar and its approaches for several years and there are indications that their influence over the city and the neighboring districts is significant and growing," McChrystal wrote in his August 30 assessment.

Sources say the additional Marines will likely come from 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade based in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

While Army officials won't say on the record what units are included in the Obama surge, recent history in Iraq gives an indication of how the service might carry out the new plan - a combination of truncated turnaround schedules, redirections, and extended deployments. Army documents provided to Military.com show several infantry brigade combat teams that have more than a year back home that could be part of an escalation, including the 2nd IBCT of the 82nd Airborne, the 1st IBCT of the 10th Mountain Division and nearly all of the 101st Airborne Division.

With the full complement of new troops expected to be in Afghanistan by next summer, the heightened pace of Obama's military deployment in the 8-year-old war appears to mimic the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, a 20,000-strong force addition under former President George W. Bush. Similar in strategy to that mission, Obama's Afghan surge aims to reverse gains by Taliban insurgents and to secure population centers in the volatile south and east parts of the country.

"We want to -- as quickly as possible -- transition the security of the Afghan people over to those national security forces in Afghanistan," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told ABC's "Good Morning America." "This can't be nation-building. It can't be an open-ended forever commitment."

The 30,000 new U.S. troops will bring the total in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 U.S. forces by next summer. More U.S. Marines will begin moving into Afghanistan almost as soon as Obama announces a redrawn battle strategy.

The president's long-awaited troop increase had been envisioned to take place over a year, or even more, because force deployments in Iraq and elsewhere make it logistically difficult, if not impossible, to go faster. But Obama directed his military planners to make the changes necessary to hasten the Afghanistan additions, said the official, who declined to be publicly identified because the formal announcement of details was still pending.

Officials were not specific on the withdrawal date or preconditions that Obama has in mind or the changes the military will be required to make to get the troop deployments into Afghanistan on the president's new, speedier timeline.

Military.com contributor Andrew Lubin contributed to this report. The Associated Press contributed to this report.