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U.S. Sends Reinforcements To Embattled Afghan Province

U.S. Marines board a C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft headed to Kandahar as British and U.S. forces withdraw from the Camp Bastion-Leatherneck complex at Lashkar Gah in Helmand in October 2014.

Hundreds of U.S. troops are making their way to Afghanistan southern Helmand Province, where security forces have struggled to fend off an onslaught of Taliban attacks, according to officials.

The soldiers will help with security and also act as advisers to the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps, U.S. Army spokesman Col. Michael Lawhorn said in a statement.

Security forces in Helmand have seen high desertion and casualty rates, corruption, and leadership problems, and recently more than 90 general officers were replaced in a major shakeup of the army.

"This was a planned deployment of additional personnel to both bolster force protection for the current staff of advisers and to provide additional advisers to help with ongoing efforts to re-man, re-equip, and re-train the 215th Corps," Lawhorn said.

Lawhorn declined to mention specific numbers, saying the reinforcements would be “significant,” despite officials saying there would be approximately 200 new troops.

Lawhorn said the new troops in Helmand would "train, advise, and assist our Afghan counterparts, and not participate in combat operations" after the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan declared its combat mission over at the end of 2014.

Regular military advising is largely limited to the corps level and above, but coalition special operation advisers are still embedding at the tactical level with Afghan commandos, sometimes blurring the lines between advising and fighting. U.S. Special Forces advisers in Helmand have been increasingly drawn into combat, and one Green Beret was killed in January during a heavy firefight with Taliban insurgents. U.S. warplanes conducted 12 air strikes during that fight.

Roughly 9,800 U.S. troops remain in the country, but U.S. President Barack Obama's initial plan to draw down forces by 2017 has already been scrapped, and top commanders now call for an increased presence for at least five more years.

For thousands of mostly British and American troops who fought there for more than a decade following the U.S.-led military intervention toppling the Taliban in 2001, Helmand was one of the most dangerous provinces.

Following the coalition’s draw-down and its transition to focusing on advising, its Helmand policy turned to “expeditionary advising,” with most foreign soldiers based outside of the province and flown in as needed.

The decision to withdraw permanent forces from Helmand was based on the closure of bases and the presence of fewer foreign troops, said U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner in an interview last week.

"Expeditionary advising ... allows you to tailor what you send down there, but one of the challenging aspects of it is that we don't have the infrastructure and the permanent basing," he said.

With reporting by Josh Smith for Reuters