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Afghan Officials Welcome U.S. Marines' Return To Helmand

FILE: Afghan National Army commandos take position during a military operation in Helmand Province in October 2016.

Afghan officials have welcomed a decision by the United States to deploy some 300 Marines to the restive southern Afghan province of Helmand.

The new forces, mainly tasked with training and advising local Afghan forces, are seen as vital help for Kabul in one of the most hotly contested Afghan provinces.

"The U.S. deployment is important. This will increase our capacity in fighting terrorism," said Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammad Radmanish.

The AFP news agency quoted Rasul Zazai, an Afghan National Army spokesman in Helmand, as saying: "We really need air support in Helmand. I hope they support our air force, since we don't have enough air power in Helmand."

Local officials estimate the Taliban control 85 percent of the poppy-growing province, up from just 20 percent a year ago.

Marine Corps Brigadier General Roger Turner told journalists on January 8 that it will be the first Marine deployment to Helmand since 2014, when the United States announced the end of its combat role in Afghanistan.

Turner said Washington viewed the Helmand deployment as "a high-risk mission."

The Taliban issued a statement the same day describing the new deployment, which will be made sometime this spring, as one of the "final failed efforts" by outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama.

U.S. and NATO-led forces formally ended their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 but thousands of troops remain in the country, where they train and assist Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism operations against groups like Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters