U.S. Is Sending More Marines to Afghanistan

Image: A U.S. Marine helps train Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers in Helmand province
A U.S. Marine, center, helps train Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers in Helmand province, Afghanistan on July 5, 2017.Omar Sobhani / Reuters

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By Courtney Kube

The U.S. is sending dozens more Marines to Afghanistan, according to three U.S. defense officials.

Task Force Southwest, based in Helmand Province in southwestern Afghanistan, requested the additional Marines to help with internal force protection, the officials said. U.S. Central Command approved the request but the Marines have not yet moved into the country.

There are currently more than 300 Marines assigned to Task Force Southwest, and the total additional force is less than 100 marines, the officials said. The Marines will deploy from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force Crisis Response Central Command, already based in the region. The officials would not say where the marines would deploy from specifically, with one saying, "we are redirecting them from where they're at now to help with the mission."

A U.S. Marine, left, watches Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers during training in Helmand province, Afghanistan on July 5, 2017.Omar Sobhani / Reuters

The officials said this deployment is not tied to the Trump administration's long-awaited new South Asia strategy, but instead fulfills a request from the commander on the ground, Marine Brig. Gen. Roger Turner. It was approved by Gen. Joseph Votel at Central Command.

Related: Trump Says U.S. 'Losing' Afghan War in Tense Meeting With Generals

In June President Trump delegated the authority to deploy troops to Afghanistan to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, but in this case Mattis did not need to sign off on the deployment, one of the officials said.

"The commander on the ground has the authority to move people in theater around," the official said.

Related: McMaster Visits Afghanistan Amid Questions About Strategy

A spokesperson for Marine Corps Forces Central Command would not confirm the deployment, saying, "The repositioning and movement of forces in the CENTCOM [area of responsibility], to include presently deployed Marines, happen at the discretion of the CENTCOM Commander," adding "at this time there are no plans to deploy CONUS based Marines into Afghanistan," using the acronym for Continental United States.

The defense officials said there is also a request for more U.S. air support in Afghanistan, but none of them would provide detail on what is needed and why. The additional air assets have not yet been deployed.