US Marines to wind down Afghan combat in 2012

US Marines will march out of Afghanistan by the thousands next year, winding down combat in the Taliban heartland, senior US military officers say.

Camp Leatherneck (Afghanistan): US Marines
will march out of Afghanistan by the thousands next year,
winding down combat in the Taliban heartland and testing the
US view that Afghan forces are capable of leading the fight
against a battered but not yet beaten insurgency in the
country`s southwestern reaches, senior US military officers
At the same time, US reinforcements will be sent to
eastern Afghanistan in a bid to reverse recent gains by
insurgents targeting Kabul, the capital.

General James F Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, said
in an Associated Press interview that the number of Marines in
Helmand province will drop "markedly" in 2012, and the role of
those who stay will shift from countering the insurgency to
training and advising the Afghan security forces.

The change suggests an early exit from Afghanistan for the
Marine Corps, even as the prospects for solidifying their
recent successes are uncertain.

"Am I OK with that? The answer is `yes,`" Amos said. "We
can`t stay in Afghanistan forever."

He added: "Will it work? I don`t know."

At stake is President Barack Obama`s pledge to win in
Afghanistan the war he touted during his 2008 presidential
campaign as worth fighting, while pledging to get out of Iraq.
Facing a stalemate in 2009, Obama ordered an extra 30,000
US troops to Afghanistan including about 10,000 Marines to
Helmand province in the belief that if the Taliban were to
retake the government al-Qaida would soon return to the land
from which it plotted the September 11, 2001, attacks.\

Also at stake are the sacrifices of the nearly 300 Marines
killed in Afghanistan over the past three years.

Weighing against prolonging the conflict is its
unsustainable cost and what author and former Defence
Department official Bing West has called its "grinding

In a series of pep talks to Marines in Helmand this past
week, Amos said the Marine mission in Afghanistan would end in
the next 12 to 18 months.

That is as much as two years before the December 2014
deadline, announced a year ago, for all US and other foreign
troops to leave the country.

"Savor being out here together," Amos told Marines on
Thanksgiving at an outpost along the Helmand River called
Fiddler`s Green, "because it`s going to be over" soon.

He was referring only to the Marines` role, which is
limited mainly to Helmand, although there also are Marine
special operations forces in western Afghanistan.


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