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Combat Ribbons Or Not, Afghanistan Marines Are ‘Very Much In Combat,’ Commander Says
The Marines in Afghanistan are definitely in combat, even if they are not being awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, the former commander of Task Force Southwest said on Thursday.
“It’s absolutely a combat mission,” Brig. Gen. Roger Turner Jr. told reporters at a roundtable. “The only difference is we’re not maneuvering directly on the enemy. From the command element perspective: It’s full spectrum combat. We shoot at the enemy, they shoot at us.”
Turner led the task force of roughly 300 Marines from April 2017 until January. During that time, Marines helped Afghan troops and interior ministry forces go on the offensive in Helmand province, the home of many senior Taliban leaders and a significant source of the opium that feeds the Taliban’s coffers, he said.
Despite being deployed to Afghanistan for nine months, none of the Marines in the task force were awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, Marine Corps Times has reported. The CAR is a coveted decoration, especially by younger Marines, because it certifies combat experience.
But on Thursday, Turner cautioned against using the CAR as a litmus test to determine if the Marines in Afghanistan are on a combat mission.
“It’s too simplistic to say that nobody earned the Combat Action Ribbon; therefore, they weren’t in combat,” Turner said. “They’re very much in combat. We just weren’t achieving the criteria of the Combat Action Ribbon.”
The CAR recognizes Marines who have taken part in direct action against the enemy, according to the decoration’s requirements. Marines who come under direct fire or are exposed to explosions can be eligible for the award. The CAR is typically not given to Marines who come under indirect fire unless they engage in offensive counter-fire operations.
With help from the Marines, Afghan security forces went on the offensive for 250 days of the 280-day deployment, Turner said. The Marines advised the Afghans at various levels of command and helped coordinate artillery and air support.
Even though the Marines did not fight alongside Afghan units, they were attacked by Taliban rockets and mortars about 20 times during the deployment, Turner said. None of the Marines were wounded.
On Jan. 15, Turner transferred command to Brig. Gen. Benjamin Watson, who commands a larger task force that will be able to have U.S. military advisers permanently assigned to Afghan battalions, Turner said.
Watson has told Task & Purpose that he has the authority to allow Marines to accompany Afghan troops and police into battle, if needed.
“Whether or not we exercise that authority is going to depend on how we assess the situation at the time, and obviously I’m not going to get into specifics on that,” Watson said in a Jan. 15 interview.
After nearly 16 years of war in Afghanistan, it is not clear how much of territory the Taliban controls outright or is contesting. Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., director of the Joint Staff, said the U.S. estimates that the Afghan government controls about 60%of the country, but a recent BBC report claims the Taliban is active in 70% of Afghanistan.
McKenzie said he does not believe the BBC story is accurate, adding that he “couldn’t completely follow their logic as stated in the article.”
“We certainly don’t think that the Taliban has a presence to some degree in 70% of the countryside – and we would disagree with that,” McKenzie told reporters Thursday during a Pentagon news briefing.
While the U.S. military wants to keep roughly 8,600 troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban's deputy leader has just made clear that his group wants all U.S. service members to leave the country as part of any peace agreement.
"The withdrawal of foreign forces has been our first and foremost demand," Sirajuddin Haqqani wrote in a story for the New York Times on Thursday.
In the wee hours of Jan. 8, Tehran retaliated over the U.S. killing of Iran's most powerful general by bombarding the al-Asad air base in Iraq.
Among the 2,000 troops stationed there was U.S. Army Specialist Kimo Keltz, who recalls hearing a missile whistling through the sky as he lay on the deck of a guard tower. The explosion lifted his body - in full armor - an inch or two off the floor.
Keltz says he thought he had escaped with little more than a mild headache. Initial assessments around the base found no serious injuries or deaths from the attack. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, "All is well!"
The next day was different.
"My head kinda felt like I got hit with a truck," Keltz told Reuters in an interview from al-Asad air base in Iraq's western Anbar desert. "My stomach was grinding."
A video has emerged showing a U.S. military vehicle running a Russian armored truck off the road in Syria after it tried to pass an American convoy.
Questions still remain about the incident, to include when it occurred, though it appears to have taken place on a stretch of road near the Turkish border town of Qamishli, according to The War Zone.
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
We are women veterans who have served in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Our service – as aviators, ship drivers, intelligence analysts, engineers, professors, and diplomats — spans decades. We have served in times of peace and war, separated from our families and loved ones. We are proud of our accomplishments, particularly as many were earned while immersed in a military culture that often ignores and demeans women's contributions. We are veterans.
Yet we recognize that as we grew as leaders over time, we often failed to challenge or even question this culture. It took decades for us to recognize that our individual successes came despite this culture and the damage it caused us and the women who follow in our footsteps. The easier course has always been to tolerate insulting, discriminatory, and harmful behavior toward women veterans and service members and to cling to the idea that 'a few bad apples' do not reflect the attitudes of the whole.
Recent allegations that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie allegedly sought to intentionally discredit a female veteran who reported a sexual assault at a VA medical center allow no such pretense.
Survival expert and former Special Air Service commando Edward "Bear" Grylls made meme history for drinking his own urine to survive his TV show, Man vs. Wild. But the United States Air Force did Bear one better recently, when an Alaska-based airman peed in an office coffee maker.
While the circumstances of the bladder-based brew remain a mystery, the incident was written up in a newsletter written by the legal office of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on February 13, a base spokesman confirmed to Task & Purpose.