The head of the Marine Corps told Kaneohe Bay Marines that the area they have operated in on recent deployments, the Nawa district in Helmand province, has become the "poster child for how things have gone well in Afghanistan."
"I’m happy to report to you that most of the places down where you have lived and fought and Marines have died and have been wounded in that part of Afghanistan, for the most part are doing very, very well each day," said Gen. James Amos, who became the 35th commandant of the Marine Corps in October.
The success of the Marines in the former Taliban stronghold of Helmand will be key in discussions over when and how much the U.S. should draw down troops in Afghanistan.
Amos, who visited Kaneohe Bay’s 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment in southern Afghanistan around Christmas, recently spoke with Marines in Hawaii on his first trip to the state since assuming the Corps’ top job.
"I look at Helmand province and I think about what has happened in the last three years in towns like Nawa and Now Zad and Musa Kala, up in the mountains of Golestan … and I’ve got to tell you, we have done it right," Amos said.
Taliban and criminal-element influences are being replaced by economic development after Marine Corps offenses in areas such as Marjah.
Amos said the press became critical in the spring and summer, "making statements like, ‘Maybe the Marines got in over their heads,’" only to be shown progress was possible.
In the northeast corner of Helmand in Sangin, the Marines have been "in a hell of a fight," Amos said. Since September, in the first four months there, the California-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines lost 24 Marines.
Amos made the prediction that in four to five months, Sangin "is going to be like Nawa or Marjah or Fallujah (in Iraq) or Ramadi (in Iraq) — people don’t even talk about those places anymore."
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said in a Jan. 25 assessment that while there’s been "impressive progress" in the country, there is also "much hard work to be done in 2011."
Petraeus added, "And, as always in Afghanistan, the way ahead will be difficult."
The gains in the south and southwest "have to be solidified, joined and expanded," he said.
In a January newsletter to families in Hawaii, the leadership of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment said the 1,000 Marines with the unit have been operating in locations including Nawa and Marjah.
Golf Company leaders said partnered operations with the Nawa Police Department were the mainstay of its daily operations.
The majority of the approximately 21,000 Marines in Afghanistan are in Helmand province.
Amos said Kaneohe Bay’s three infantry battalions are on a one-to-two deployment-to-dwell ratio, meaning a deployment for seven months and then 14 months back home.
President Barack Obama ordered a surge of 30,000 extra troops for Afghanistan in late 2009, and also said a troop drawdown would begin in July.
The Pentagon now talks about U.S. forces being removed or "significantly reduced" by the end of 2014. Budget planners, meanwhile, are wrestling with cutbacks and how much it will cost to sustain Afghan forces.
"Let’s not kid ourselves," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently. "We are the only ones paying for this in any significant way. How long can we sustain it?"