1,400 More Marines Headed to Afghanistan

Pentagon says move is temporary, to hold off Taliban.

ByLuis Martinez
January 06, 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.

Centcom says the majority of the incoming Marine force will be sent to Helmand Province, joining the 18,500 Marines already there. Portions of the unit will also be operating in neighboring Kandahar Province.

The temporary increase could help counter any offensive by Taliban fighters this spring, but one defense official says for now the Marines will help to build roads in the region.

The 1,400 Marines will likely be in Afghanistan for three months before reboarding their ships for the return trip to the U.S.

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