USMC Major General Toolan: Marines to be cut in Helmand

US Marine Major General John Toolan has told the UK’s Daily Telegraph that the number of Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan “is to be cut in half” and “could be cut to almost a quarter” of current strength by next year:

The substantial reduction in US forces could mean that British forces will resume control of former bases such as Sangin, Musa Qala and Now Zad.

It is understood that the force of 20,000 US marines in Helmand, which has done much to restore stability, could even be cut to almost a quarter of its strength by September next year.

A summary of predictable worries follows, including how slashing the forces undermines relationships forged with local leaders who were empowered as a counterweight to the Taliban:

But Gen John Toolan warned that Afghans were “apprehensive” after being told that the American strength could drop to below the 9,000 British troops in Helmand. “They like the situation as it is right now,” he said.

He added that the reduction would mean there would be very few reserves left to deal with Taliban hot spots. “As we go further down [in numbers], we have less manoeuvre elements,” the commander of Nato troops in Helmand said.

There are fears that if the force is slashed, the gains made in Helmand, which was once the hotbed of the insurgency, could be lost if Afghan forces cannot maintain control.

The article notes that some US forces may be redeployed to undermanned trouble spots in the east; it’s possible that some of the drawdown may be a conditions-based realignment after the stabilization of certain districts in the province. Hence, it is difficult to fully assess the proposed pullout as described in this vaguely reported article until the force structure takes shape more definitively.

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