By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 15, 2008 - The deployment of 3,200 U.S. Marines to Afghanistan this spring represents a one-time troop movement that partially fulfills a long-time request by NATO commanders for additional forces, a senior Pentagon spokesman said here today. The deployment "does not reflect any new developments on the ground," Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters at a news conference. "It reflects our means and ability to meet what has been a long-standing desire of the commanders there."
About 2,200 Marines from 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and about 1,000 troops from 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, based at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center, at Twentynine Palms, Calif., are participating in the deployment, according to officials at the Defense Department and Marine Headquarters here.
The Marines will serve in Afghanistan for seven months, Morrell said, noting the temporary plus-up will boost the total number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to about 30,000 from around 27,000 now.
The deployment "is for a very finite period of time," Morrell emphasized. "We've made it clear. This is seven months. This is a one-time deal; that's it."
Beyond that, "we're going to need our allies' help to either backfill this deployment or to perhaps match us in the numbers we're putting forth," Morrell said.
Senior leaders of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan have said in the past that they require another 7,500 troops to confront Taliban insurgents and to help train new Afghan soldiers and police, Morrell said.
Marines from 24th MEU should be in place in March to assist in NATO-led anti-insurgent operations in southern Afghanistan, Morrell said, while the 1,000 Marines from Twentynine Palms would be assigned to duty under American command sometime in April to assist in training Afghan security forces.
"Our planners have carefully considered when would be the best time to deploy these additional forces, and by getting the MEU in place in March, they believe it provides more than adequate time for them to be ready for the fighting season" that comes with the advent of spring, Morrell explained.
The temporary deployment of additional U.S. Marines to Afghanistan may inspire other NATO nations to pitch in with more forces, Morrell said. "We certainly hope that us doing so will inspire them to do so," Morrell said. "At the very least, we would hope they would take a serious look at backfilling this deployment after the Marines leave at the end of this year."