I Deployed Twice To Helmand, I Can’t Believe Marines Are Going Back

A photo of U.S. Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment on patrol in Kajaki Sofla, Afghanistan.
Photo via DoD

Since 2001, the War in Afghanistan has been a sort of tug-of-war with concertina wire, with both sides coming out bloody, battered, and sinking deeper and deeper into a quagmire with no end in sight. From its start in 2001, to the low troop levels in the mid 2000s as the Iraq War picked up, to the massive troop surge in 2009, followed by the official end of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2014, the war has ground on and on.

And now, Marines are headed back to Helmand province for the first time since the Corps pulled out in 2014.

Called Task Force Southwest, the Marines are mostly senior and many have past deployments to the province under their belt, according to The Washington Post. They’ll replace a U.S. Army contingent there and take part in advise and assist operations, working with the Afghan army and national police, and operating out of Camp Shorabak, a small outpost near the remains of the sprawling base that was once the headquarters of thousands of Marines in the province — Camp Leatherneck.

Related: 15 Years Later, We’re Still Fighting In Afghanistan And No One Cares »

For many Marines, Helmand is defined by violent battles in places like Marjah, Garmsir, Sangin, Kajaki, Musa Qala, and Now Zad, most of which have since fallen back under Taliban control, along with large swathes of the country.

Places where yellow jugs full of homemade explosive rest in freshly dug holes under hastily packed moon dust and dirt. Places where the mix of monotony and fear that comes with patrolling through muddy fields, across foot bridges, and along goat paths is broken only by sudden violence, or dissipates slowly once you make it back to the patrol base.

In 2009 and again in 2011 I deployed to Helmand as part of the surge, which sent 30,000 additional troops charging into Afghanistan, an event which was supposed to end the war, but even with the massive influx of troops and an uptick in operational tempo, nothing sustainable was achieved.

Our hard-won gains in Marjah, where I deployed with 1st Battalion, 6th Marines during the battle to wrest the city from Taliban hands, were overturned last year as Marjah fell to the insurgency. And in Kajaki, where I deployed again with 1/6, and where our unit fought to secure a vital road to the dam and oust the Taliban from the valley, much of that area has also fallen back under Taliban control.

Now, years later and after most of us have gotten out and tried to move on, 300 more Marines are heading back there as the forever war continues without end.

The news that my service would be returning to Helmand feels particularly personal, in large part because it just seems futile. Is there even an end-state in mind, or are we just trying to show our dedication to our allies by putting Marines once again in harm’s way? All the while hamstrung by decisions to maintain a small footprint in Afghanistan — roughly 8,400 troops are there as of last year — not enough to shift the tide, but just enough to say “hey, we’re still here.”

Increasingly, our policy in Afghanistan looks more and more like it’s less about winning, and more about not losing. And if we never leave, we can’t lose.

Recently while reporting from Helmand, The Washington Post’s Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a former infantry Marine who served in the volatile province, described how one U.S. adviser compared the ongoing fight in Afghanistan to putting a “band-aid on a bullet wound.”

With 300 Marines heading back to Helmand, it doesn’t look like there’s any new policy in place, or that anything will come of this, instead it seems like we’re just changing the band-aid.

An Austrian Jagdkommando K9 unit conducts training (Austrian Armed Forces photo)

An Austrian soldier was apparently killed by two military working dogs that he was charged with feeding, the Austrian Ministry of Defense announced on Thursday.

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Conflict photographer Lynsey Addario has seen a hell of a lot of combat over the past twenty years. She patrolled Afghanistan's Helmand Province with the Marines, accompanied the Army on night raids in Baghdad, took artillery fire with rebel fighters in Libya, and has taken photos in countless other wars and humanitarian disasters around the world.

Along the way, Addario captured images of plenty of women serving with pride in uniform, not only in the U.S. armed forces, but also on the battlefields of Syria, Colombia, South Sudan and Israel. Her photographs are the subject of a new article in the November 2019 special issue of National Geographic, "Women: A Century of Change," the magazine's first-ever edition written and photographed exclusively by women.

The photos showcase the wide range of goals and ideals for which these women took up arms. Addario's work includes captivating vignettes of a seasoned guerrilla fighter in the jungles of Colombia; a team of Israeli military police patrolling the streets of Jerusalem; and a unit of Kurdish women guarding ISIS refugees in Syria. Some fight to prove themselves, others seek to ignite social change in their home country, and others do it to liberate other women from the grip of ISIS.

Addario visited several active war zones for the piece, but she found herself shaken by something much closer to home: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Addario discussed her visit to boot camp and her other travels in an interview with Task & Purpose, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

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My brother earned the Medal of Honor for saving countless lives — but only after he was left for dead

"As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night."


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.

Air Force Master Sgt. John "Chappy" Chapman is my brother. As one of an elite group, Air Force Combat Control — the deadliest and most badass band of brothers to walk a battlefield — John gave his life on March 4, 2002 for brothers he never knew.

They were the brave men who comprised a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that had been called in to rescue the SEAL Team 6 team (Mako-30) with whom he had been embedded, which left him behind on Takur Ghar, a desolate mountain in Afghanistan that topped out at over 10,000 feet.

As I learned while researching a book about John, the SEAL ground commander, Cmdr. Tim Szymanski, had stupidly and with great hubris insisted on insertion being that night. After many delays, the mission should and could have been pushed one day, but Szymanski ordered the team to proceed as planned, and Britt "Slab" Slabinski, John's team leader, fell into step after another SEAL team refused the mission.

But the "plan" went even more south when they made the rookie move to insert directly atop the mountain — right into the hands of the bad guys they knew were there.

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Photo: ABC News/screenshot

Federal court judge Reggie Walton in Washington D.C. has ruled Hoda Muthana, a young woman who left her family in Hoover, Alabama, to join ISIS, is not a U.S. citizen, her attorneys told AL.com Thursday.

The ruling means the government does not recognize her a citizen of the United States, even though she was born in the U.S.

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Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- The Marine Corps could train as many as eight co-ed companies at boot camp each year, and the general overseeing the effort is hitting back against those complaining that the move is lowering training standards.

"Get over it," Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the head of Training and Education Command told Military.com on Thursday. "We're still making Marines like we used to. That has not changed."

Mullen, a career infantry officer who has led troops in combat — including in Fallujah, Iraq — said Marines have likely been complaining about falling standards since 1775.

"I'm assuming that the second Marine walking into Tun Tavern was like 'You know ... our standards have gone down. They're just not the same as it they used to be,'" Mullen said, referring to the service's famous birthplace. "That has always been going on in the history of the Marine Corps."

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