It's official: Marines are headed back to the Taliban hotbed of Helmand province, Afghanistan, the Marine Corps announced Friday.
The deployment of 300 Marines from II Marine Expeditionary Force will return to the southwestern province that was the site of the Corps' major battles within the country as advisers and trainers for the Afghan National Army and police, officials said in a release.
The deployment comes at the request of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Forces Afghanistan in support of the ongoing NATO-led Resolute Support mission, which began after most combat forces pulled out at the end of 2014.
The Marine detachment will be called Task Force South West and will be led by Brig. Gen. Roger Turner Jr., most recently the director of capabilities at Marine Corps Combat Development Command. It will be tasked with training the Helmand-based Afghan National Army 215th Corps and the 505th Afghan National Police command, according to the release.
As Military.com reported Thursday, this upcoming deployment has been discussed by key Marine Corps personnel for months. While the specific battalion deploying to Afghanistan has not yet been formally identified, senior leaders have said it likely will come from within 6th Marine Regiment, out of the Camp Lejeune-based 2nd Marine Division.
"We've had advisers in Afghanistan ever since we concluded our major operations there, so the Marine Corps is going to pick up another one of those advisory missions that the Army's been doing," Maj. Gen. John Love, commanding general of 2nd Marine Division, told Military.com in November. "So the Army has been doing it, and the Marine Corps is going to go in and take over one of their teams for them."
The Marine Corps has not had a rank-and-file presence in Helmand province since the last Marine elements pulled out of the region in November 2014, turning over the sprawling Camp Leatherneck base to members of the Afghan National Army 215th Corps for their use.
While the Marine Corps was able to win key victories in Taliban hotbeds, including the districts of Sangin and Marjah, during its years of deploying to Helmand province, the years since the pullout have seen a resurgence of Taliban forces, challenging the capabilities of the relatively small 215th Corps.
In February, Pentagon officials announced hundreds of soldiers from the Army's 10th Mountain Division would move into Helmand to provide force protection for the small contingent of Army advisers working with Afghan forces in the region.
The Marines' upcoming spring deployment coincides with the start of the Taliban's annual fighting season, when the group ramps up its attacks on Afghan National Army and coalition troops.
"The Marine Corps has an operational history in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand Province. Advising and assisting Afghan defense and security forces will assist in preserving gains made together with the Afghans," II MEF officials said in Friday's announcement. "This new deployment of Marines to Helmand reflects our enduring commitment to the people of Afghanistan."