09-01-09, 08:25 AM
Marine commander sees progress in Afghanistan <br />
Marine Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland says troops have made strides in winning control of Helmand province from the Taliban. He says the going is slow for U.S....
09-01-09, 09:17 AM
Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland to hand over reins of I Marine Expeditionary Force
MILITARY: General says Afghanistan fight is necessary
MARK WALKER - email@example.com | Posted: Monday, August 31, 2009 7:50 pm
Success in an increasingly unstable Afghanistan is worth the cost ---- in blood and resources ---- but it will come gradually, says the general who oversees U.S. Marine troops in the war-torn country.
"It's a slow process," Lt.Gen. Samuel Helland said during an interview Monday morning at his Camp Pendleton office. "It's going to take time."
Helland's comments came as he prepares to hand over the reins of the 40,000-troop I Marine Expeditionary Force to Lt. Gen. Joseph Dunford on Friday.
For nearly two years, Helland has served as commander of that unit and as head of Marine Corps Forces, Central Command, with responsibility for Marines serving throughout the Middle East.
His comments came the same day as the overall U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, presented his report to the Obama administration on the challenges troops are facing in the 8-year-old war.
"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort,"McChrystal said.
Despite waning public support for the war, Helland said the danger presented by the Taliban and related anti-government forces requires the U.S. to stay the course.
"As long as there is a foreign enemy that is radical, irresponsible and willing to do anything to cause instability and chaos . . ... we need to keep them off-balance, to keep them from coming here," he said..
Helland also said that Camp Pendleton and other area Marine bases are ready to contribute more troops to the protracted fight if the Obama administration responds to calls from some commanders for more troops.
The Marines have about 12,000 troops in Afghanistan and are ready to send as many as 7,000 more.
"Everything we're doing is preparing to put more forces in theater," Helland said.
Equipping the Afghan National Army and security forces to the point they can provide security and win the confidence of the Afghan people remains a daunting but doable task, the former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier said.
"They don't understand leadership, they don't understand noncommissioned officers," Helland said. "Their first committment is to family and then to clan and then tribe and region. To use a Marine term, they're a herd. But once trained, they're warriors."
More than 1,200 local Marines and sailors are now in Afghanistan, including Camp Pendleton's 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. Those troops are operating in the tumultuous southern province of Helmand, where they're using a page of the military's Iraq handbook to win over the population. The Marines are living and working with Afghan forces and not staying inside guarded bases.
July and August have been the deadliest two months of the Afghan war, with 46 U.S. troop deaths the past 31 days. Fifty Marines have died in the fighting since the year began.
On his other battlefront, Helland said about 14,000 Marines remain in Iraq, where he said the next year will see a deliberate and gradual drawdown.
"We can't just flip the lights on and off in Iraq," the former helicopter pilot said. "We have to do it sensibly."
Helland turns over his duties to Dunford in a base ceremony that is expected to include top military officials such as Army Gen. David Petraeus, the overall U.S. commander, and Helland's predecessor, Gen. James Mattis.
He is retiring after a 41-year military career that saw him join the Marine Corps in 1972 after his Army stint.
He and his wife have purchased a recreational vehicle and plan to drive around the country over the next few weeks.
Helland said that while he has loved his career and his current assignment, he is eager to go fishing.
Call staff writer Mark Walker at 760-740-3529.