WASHINGTON – As Marines keep pushing insurgents out of Afghanistan’s Helmand and Nimruz provinces, Afghan soldiers and police are taking the reins and protecting the population, the commander of 1st Marine Division (Forward) said August 8 via teleconference from Camp Leatherneck.
The biggest change on the ground in the area is the drawdown of coalition surge forces and the simultaneous buildup of Afghan forces, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. David H. Berger said.
“We’re pushing the insurgents out of the populated areas into the periphery and assisting the Afghan police and Afghan army -- helping them get closer to the Afghan people,” the general said.
Afghan forces have made tremendous progress in the region, Berger said. When Marines first went into Helmand, he noted, the province had a lot of Marines and a few Afghan forces. “Then, it was an equal partnership,” he said, noting Afghan forces will soon be leading operations in the area.
This means the Afghans will decide where to go, they will develop the plans and they will work jointly with coalition forces to “determine what they need in terms of extra equipment, extra forces,” Berger explained. The Marine role, he added, is one of support.
Afghan security forces will grow to roughly 352,000. They have the numbers and are
developing the expertise to plan, conduct and lead operations, the general said. U.S. and Afghan leaders always compare notes on the insurgent threat in the region.
“We openly share the intelligence we have, and then we decide where we think we can have the most effect on the insurgency, and then decide where we want to use their forces against the threat,” he said.
American and coalition forces will continue to work with Afghan forces to develop their capabilities, and the Afghan forces will continue to keep pressure on the insurgents, Berger said. The Afghans, he added, need help in combating improvised explosive devices, the means to evacuate their casualties, and calling in air and fire support.
“All these [tasks] they rely on us, right now,” the general said, “but in the future, they will develop their own capabilities, and we will only provide it in extremis when they can’t do it themselves.
“We’re on the right track,” he added. “We have a great working relationship with the Afghan security forces. Everyone here is absolutely confident we are headed in the right direction.”