1,400 More Marines Headed to Afghanistan

Pentagon says move is temporary, to hold off Taliban.

ByABC News
January 6, 2011, 6:37 PM

Jan. 6, 2011 -- The Pentagon announced today it was temporarily sending 1,400 more Marines to southern Afghanistan in the coming weeks to build on security gains there.

The additional troops being sent will not be above the 30,000 troop surge authorized by the Obama administration because the Pentagon is allowed to 3,000 additional troops as needed. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has already used this option several times last year using it to send additional trainers or combat support troops. There are currently 97,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said the deployment of the Marines "will allow us to keep our momentum going" in the Taliban heartland of southern Afghanistan.

"We have clearly, over the past several months, gained the upper hand and we want to retain it through what is traditionally a lull in the winter, when the Taliban would try to regenerate and recuperate itself and return in the spring."

Marines have seen a tough fight in Helmand Province this past year and Army forces in neighboring Kandahar Province have pushed into Taliban strongholds outside Kandahar City. Officials have described the security gains in both provinces as fragile.

In a statement issued today, U.S. Central Command said the Marines were from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit currently serving aboard the amphibious ship USS Kearsarge. The 2,220-man unit has been serving in the Centcom region since September, when it was sent to assist in relief operations for the catastrophic floods in Pakistan.

Since then the unit has been available in the region if needed. Defense Secretary Gates signed the unit's deployment orders yesterday for the portion of the unit that will deploy to southern Afghanistan.

The force of 1,400 Marines will consist of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and helicopters aboard the Kearsarge. The unit is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.