U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Roger Turner Jr. speaks about his recent experience in Helmand Province, Afghanistan at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. March 30, 2018.

Photo by Caitlin M. Kenney

Marines help Afghan partners build confidence in fight against Taliban

March 30, 2018 - 5:49 pm

WASHINGTON— Once Afghan forces are confident in their abilities, they have no problem fighting the Taliban, according to a U.S. Marine Corps brigadier general recently back from Afghanistan.

“We found our Afghan partners quite willing to go forward and fight for their country. And they didn’t need nor want Americans by their side. They were quite willing to do, if properly enabled and if confident,” said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Roger Turner, Jr.

Turner recently returned from a deployment to Helmand province and gave a briefing on the war in Afghanistan at the Brookings Institute, Friday.

“The bottom line, up front, really is that we’re seeing great success in Helmand over the last year,” he said.

Helmand and the surrounding region is the birthplace of the Taliban and where the Sept. 11 attacks were ordered from. Several years ago, there were tens of thousands of coalition forces in the region.

“The previous strategy was the time-based strategy rather than a conditions-based strategy. So that basically had all the coalition forces were removed from the Helmand Province in 2014.”

When Turner arrived in April of 2017, he found the Afghan allies were on the defensive, demoralized and didn’t feel supported by the Afghan government.

With the help of new Afghan leadership in the province, his Marines focused on their mission to train, advise and assist their Afghan partners to aid the government to “expand population control and also pressurize the Taliban.”

During the course of their deployment, the Marines learned how vital it was to build up the confidence of the Afghan forces because it made the Afghans more willing to take the lead on missions.

The previous thinking that U.S. forces should accompany Afghans on missions is now seen as counterproductive and even can create “a dependency on U.S. forces.”

“So it wasn’t necessarily their capability or how much combat power they could bring, it was the confidence that was the most important thing,” said Turner.

The concept of advise, train and assist is not new to the US military. Earlier this month, the U.S. Army deployed the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) to Afghanistan. This new unit was specifically designed and trained for advising allied forces, building on years of U.S. deployments focused on executing these missions.

Asked by a reporter about the make-up of his unit of 300 Marines, Turner said that half were trained as advisors for this mission and the other half were conventional forces like infantry and artillery.

While the Marine Corps is working on creating an advisory group, Turner said he believes that “in some cases, we make way too much of this.”

Turner explained that interacting with U.S. partners is “relatively common sense engagements” that doesn’t necessarily require too much specialization beyond what the US military is already capable of.

When asked by a reporter what his recommendation would be to President Donald Trump’s administration to ensure stability in Afghanistan, Turner replied that based on his experience in the country, “it’s going to require a long term commitment to get the Afghan forces where they need to be.”