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Back in Afghan Hot Spot, U.S. Marines Chase Diminished Goals

As the Pentagon has drawn up its plans, its leaders have studiously refused to talk about timetables. To describe how long this new mission may take, in a war that has already stretched over nearly 16 years, the Marines in Helmand repeatedly referred to American efforts in Germany and Japan after World War II.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who visited Helmand for a couple of hours last month, put it more simply: “We are staying.”

Task Force Southwest, consisting of about 300 Marines and some sailors, has taken up quarters in a corner of what had been a British base and is now the headquarters of the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps.

Many of the senior American officers have served in Helmand before.

The last time Brig. Gen. Roger B. Turner Jr., the commanding general of the task force, was in Helmand, in 2011, he was leading a regimental combat team responsible for four southern districts. There they established about 175 outposts. His current deputy, Col. Matthew S. Reid, was in Helmand then, too, leading clearance operations in Garmsir District, establishing about 50 outposts across a 30-mile stretch.

Now most of the areas they cleared and held have been retaken by the Taliban. Many of the tribal elders and government leaders General Turner worked with have been killed.

For weeks after arriving in April, he struggled with the burden of that past.

“You carry that baggage with you — of the places we fought and sacrificed, and to see it rolled back,” he said. “Dwelling on the past is just not useful, because we have a job to do going forward.”

Colonel Reid said he was not surprised by the reversals. “It went back to what, I think, you could have reasonably predicted it would have — because, fundamentally, we weren’t here long enough,” he said.

“It’s a generational fix.”

‘Cowboy Country’

Capt. John D. Quail, an American operations officer, sat next to the Afghan Army corps’ operations chief, Lt. Col. Abdul Latif. They discussed the dots covering the map on the wall in front of them, representing Afghan presence.

Source: NYT > World

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