The U.S. is set to send hundreds of additional troops to Afghanistan to help strengthen local military against the Taliban, said to be regaining ground in parts of the country, the Guardian reported Monday. By the end of the month, the troops are set to reach the southern Helmand province, a region that has seen U.S. and U.K. forces struggle for over a decade to drive out the Taliban.
Defense officials told the Guardian that the troops will not participate in combat, keeping in line with the October announcement from U.S. President Barack Obama that the troops will only help local forces defend themselves from Taliban attacks. The officials did not divulge much information on the deployment but said that the U.S. forces will help train and bolster the 215th Corps of the Afghan military, which is facing difficulties of late, the Guardian reported.
"This was a planned deployment of additional personnel to both bolster force protection for the current staff of advisers and to provide additional advisers to help with ongoing efforts to re-man, re-equip, and re-train the 215th Corps,” Colonel Michael Lawhorn, a spokesman for the U.S. command in Kabul, said, according to Reuters.
The Guardian report also said that the additional troops will not add to the current number of 9,800 in Afghanistan, but will be deployed from those already in the country.
Last week, outgoing U.S. commander General John Campbell testified to Congress that the 215 corps has “unusually high operating tempo for long periods of time” amid its commander being replaced due to concerns over performance and corruption.
“Our mission remains the same,” Lawhorn said, according to the Guardian, adding: “To train, advise, and assist our Afghan counterparts, and not to participate in combat operations.”
According to the report by Reuters, Lawhorn did not give an exact number of the troops set to sent to Helmand, but said that it would be “significant." The report also said that officials estimate the new troops would amount to about 200.
The move comes amid warnings of a deteriorating condition in Afghanistan’s Helmand province and beyond, prompting a revision in Obama’s plans in Afghanistan. Although Obama said that about 5,500 troops will be present in Afghanistan after the end of his presidency, his new commander General John “Mick” Nicholson told a senate panel, according to the Guardian, that the decision will be re-evaluated if the insurgent attacks in the region increase.
In January, a soldier from U.S. special forces died and two others were injured while assisting the Afghan military to beat back Taliban during an attack in the province. During the fight, U.S. warplanes conducted 12 air strikes.
Obama’s initial plan of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by 2017 was contested by several top commanders, who say that the U.S. needs to arrange for an increased presence in the region at least for the coming five years. The coalition forces have now adopted the policy of “expeditionary advising” in Helmand, according to which the troops don’t stay at a place permanently but are flown in as needed.
“Expeditionary advising ... allows you to tailor what you send down there, but one of the challenging aspects of it is that we don't have the infrastructure and the permanent basing,” U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner said in an interview last week, according to Reuters, adding that the decision was taken because the bases were closed, and the number of foreign troops were reduced.