The core of the new force will provide more security and act as
advisers to the Afghan army's 215th Corps, U.S. Army spokesman Col.
Michael Lawhorn said in a statement.
Security forces in the southern province have been plagued by high
desertion and casualty rates, corruption, and leadership problems,
and the army corps recently saw more than 90 general officers
replaced in a major shakeup.
"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," he said.
Officials have previously said the new troops would number roughly
200, but Lawhorn declined to publicize exact numbers, saying the
reinforcements would be "significant".
The NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan declared its combat mission
over at the end of 2014, and Lawhorn said the new troops in Helmand
would be there "to train, advise, and assist our Afghan
counterparts, and not to participate in combat operations".
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.
American Special Forces advisers on the ground in Helmand have found
themselves increasingly drawn into combat, with one Green Beret
killed in January during a heavy firefight with Taliban insurgents.
U.S. warplanes conducted 12 air strikes during that fight.
9,800 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan, but President Barack
Obama's initial plan to withdraw forces by 2017 has already been
scrapped, and top commanders are calling for an increased presence
for at least five more years.
[to top of second column]
Helmand was one of the deadliest provinces for thousands of mostly
British and American troops who fought there for more than a decade
after a U.S.-led military intervention toppled the Taliban in 2001.
After the coalition reduced its troop strength and transitioned to
the focus on advising last year, it adopted a policy of
"expeditionary advising" in Helmand, in which most foreign soldiers
were not based permanently in the province, but flew in as needed.
That decision to withdraw permanent forces from Helmand was driven
by the closure of bases and the reduction in the total number of
foreign troops, U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner
said 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.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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