Top Marine: 'No Delusions' About Difficulty of Afghanistan Mission

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller. Staff Sgt. Gabriela Garcia/Marine Corps
Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller. Staff Sgt. Gabriela Garcia/Marine Corps

The commandant of the Marine Corps said Thursday that a 300-Marine team of advisers deploying to the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province, Afghanistan, this spring will be well trained and equipped, but added he remained clear-eyed about what the Marines would be able to accomplish there.

"Are we going to change the game? I don't know; we'll find out," Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com during a speech at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium near Washington, D.C. "It's going to be a very challenging mission. Helmand and the Helmand River valley and that whole area is right smack-dab in the middle of [Taliban territory]."

The Marine Corps announced last week that the advisory unit, including troops from 6th Marine Regiment out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, would deploy to the southwestern Afghan province, where Marines were concentrated during combat operations in the war. The element, Task Force Southwest, will replace an Army unit that had a similar mission.

While Marines have a special claim to Helmand province, Neller said their return to the region is just the execution of an order.

"The simple reason why we're going back is because someone asked us if we could do this," he said. "And I said, 'yes.' "

The Marines will work from Camp Leatherneck, their old base and now the headquarters of the Afghan National Army's 215th Corps, as well as the city of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand and headquarters of the province's police corps, Neller said.

The advisory element is set to arrive in Helmand just ahead of the start of the Taliban's traditional spring "fighting season." The news of the deployment comes as reports surface of Taliban resurgence in regions that saw some of the most hard-fought battles of the war, including Marjah and Sangin.

"No delusions about the difficulty and the challenges they're going to face," Neller said. "We're going there to facilitate the capabilities of the Afghan 215th Corps and the Afghan police in Helmand and Lashkar Gah so they can be more effective and protect the security of the people who live there."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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