A group of about 1,000 Marines from Kaneohe Bay began leaving for southern Afghanistan yesterday to replace a sister unit in a region where there has been a downturn in violence.
About 500 to 600 Marines and sailors with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, said goodbye to families on Veterans Day to make the long trip. The rest will depart through the weekend.
The 2nd Battalion will replace the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, in Nawa district in central Helmand province, a poppy-producing region where profits have financed militants.
The 3rd Battalion, which left Hawaii in May, lost at least three Marines on the deployment. One Marine died "while supporting combat operations," the Marine Corps said; another was swept away in a river; and a third was shot in the neck while on a patrol.
Senior Marine officers said insurgent attacks in Nawa have declined significantly, and the capacity of the Afghan army to operate independently has increased, the Washington Post reported.
Marines have begun handing over some of their small bases to the Afghan army. The transfer of most Marines from populated parts of Nawa to a series of desert bases by the spring would allow the overall number of U.S. troops in the district to be reduced by next summer, the Post reported.
"Life in Nawa continues to be challenging and yet rewarding," Lt. Col. Jeff Holt, commander of the 3rd Battalion, said in a November newsletter to families back home. "The Afghan security forces continue to take on more responsibility and be more independent."
Holt said the "cooler weather" was bringing highs in the 90s versus low 100s. Holt said there was "frequent patrolling from positions where our squads engage with the local nationals at the bazaars, in their homes, and on the road."
"The opposition is still active, but with limited activity and effectiveness against our forces," he said. He added that the battalion recently had a big mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle roll over into a canal. Two Marines following in another vehicle helped free the trapped Marines inside, and everyone emerged safe, Holt said.
About 100 Marines from the unit have returned to Hawaii, with the bulk of the unit expected back in early December, officials said.