ISLAMABAD — The Taliban has dismissed American plans to send 300 troops to Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province as nothing but “solely to lend morale” to embattled Afghan forces “in hopes they hold out until spring.”
The insurgents have captured most of the districts in Helmand since NATO ended its combat mission, and most U.S. forces withdrew from the largest poppy-growing Afghan province in 2014.
With the help of U.S. air power and military advisers on the ground, the Afghan government has been able in recent months to maintain control over the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, which remains under attack from the Taliban.
The Islamist insurgency has made advances despite the large presence of U.S.-led foreign forces and “the arrival of a few hundred troops will not prevent their march,” said a Taliban statement on January 8.
It went on to assert that “such actions are the final failed efforts of (outgoing President Barack) Obama.”
The U.S. Marine Corps announced last week it will deploy a task force of 300 personnel to the restive province later this year as part of NATO’s advisory mission in the country.
“The Marine Corps has an operational history in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand Province” and “will assist in preserving gains made together with the Afghans,” it said.
The announcement came amid fears that battlefield advances in 2016 have enabled the Taliban to stage major operations in the coming summer fighting season.
The U.S. maintains roughly 8,500 forces in Afghanistan under NATO’s train-and-advisory mission. The troops are also tasked with conducting independent counterterrorism operations against militants linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State.
U.S. Committed To Afghanistan
But the future of the U.S. military mission is unclear because President-elect Donald Trump has said almost nothing about operations in Afghanistan, which has become America’s longest war.
A senior American diplomat, however, assured Afghan leaders during a visit to Kabul on January 7 that Washington is committed to their country’s peace, prosperity and security.
“Our commitment to Afghanistan does not end on January 20 (when Trump will take oath of office), quite the contrary it will only deepen and that the strategic importance of this relationship is evident to all,” said Thomas Shannon, under secretary of state for political affairs.
-- Written by Ayaz Gul for Voice of America.