Thoughts from a broken mind
By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
U.S. commanders plan to cut the Marine Corps’ footprint in southwestern Afghanistan dramatically this year, from about 17,000 personnel now to about 7,000 in October, said the top officer in the region.
The reductions will occur in coming months as the U.S. demilitarizes bases in Helmand and Nimroz provinces, Maj. Gen. John Toolan told Marine Corps Times in an interview Friday. The number of bases and outposts in the region also will drop, from about 250 last fall to about 28 in October, he said.
Toolan, commander of Regional Command-Southwest and II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), said his forces now have 108 bases and outposts in the region, primarily in Helmand province, where the majority of the Corps’ work in Afghanistan has occurred in the last few years. The drawdown will occur as Afghan forces in the region take on more responsibility for security.
“We’re going to have some choices about where the greatest threat is and where the greatest need is as far as readiness of the Afghan national security force, and the commander is going to have some decisions about how to best apportion the forces he has come October,” Toolan said.
The plan is even more pronounced than drawdown details released late last year. At that time, Marine officials suggested the Corps’ footprint in Afghanistan would likely be reduced from about 19,000 personnel to 10,000 in fall 2012.
Toolan’s comments came as his Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based command prepares to hand off control to I MEF (Fwd.), out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus will take over for Toolan in a March 12 ceremony at Camp Leatherneck, the Corps’ main hub of operations in the region.
Toolan gave the analogy that the insurgency is on its back in southern Helmand, on its knees in the central part of the province, and on its heels in the north, where combat is more pronounced.
But Marines have made significant strides in northern Helmand since launching Operation Eastern Storm, an October assault in which Marine forces pressed north from Sangin district to insurgent-held territory in Kajaki.
“They did not know how to react to Operation Eastern Storm, which is what we put into effect in early October and ran through November,” he said. “It was a very successful operation that involved very discreet operational maneuver that really avoided us having to destroy a whole lot of property.”