The small detachment of Marines deployed to Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province have pushed outside their original constellation of outposts and reopened an old firebase bordering several violent districts, Marines familiar with operations said. The move marks one of the furthest points south the Marine unit has gone in the province since they arrived earlier this spring.

The base, called Fiddler’s Green, was first built in 2009 to house artillery for a Marine-led summer offensive that thrust deep into Helmand’s Garmsir District. Now the Marines there — part of a roughly 300 strong unit called Task Force Southwest — have used the facility as a rotating command post to help Afghan forces fight off the Taliban in a neighboring town.

While not directly related to President Trump’s decision to send more troops into Afghanistan, the new Marine outpost is indicative of the U.S. military’s increased effort to support the struggling Afghan military by getting closer to the fighting. U.S. commanders in Afghanistan often complained in recent years that the Obama administration’s drawdown in 2014 prohibited remaining American forces from helping everywhere they were needed.

The Marines have used Fiddler’s Green over the course of the summer, flying from Camp Shorab to the north and staging there intermittently to help the Afghans with multiple weeks-long operations, mainly in the Nawa district. The Americans are not stationed there permanently but have moved some equipment — such as generators — to the base. The outpost, which also serves as headquarters for an Afghan unit, sits near a key juncture in Helmand close to the city of Marjah to the northwest, the unfederated land of Trek Nawa to the north and the Nawa district directly east.

While the focus of Taskforce Southwest has been to help the Afghan security forces hold the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, the Marines have been pushing their Afghan counterparts to go on the offensive around the capital to relieve some of the pressure on the local troops stationed there. That has meant that much of the Afghan Army’s efforts have focused on Nawa, the district that borders Lashkar Gah to the south.

During an interview in August, the commander of the Marine detachment, Brig. Gen. Roger B. Turner Jr. said that Fiddler’s Green is in a key position to help the Afghan army open roads running from the capital into the surrounding districts. Yet for every gain the Afghan security forces have made in Helmand during the summer, the Taliban have adapted. After Afghan forces pushed into Nawa, Turner said, the militants quickly counterattacked, attempting to mine roads leading into the district and attacking the district center.

There are 11,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, split primarily between supporting Afghan security forces and counterterrorism missions. On Aug. 31, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis signed orders to send what is likely to be around 4,000 additional troops into the almost 16-year-old war. Those forces are likely to include Army paratroopers, more air support and Marine artillery units. More than 2,000 Americans have died in Afghanistan since 2001. While 10 U.S. troops were killed by hostile fire in 2017, more than 1,600 Afghan civilians have been killed from Jan. 1 to June 30, according to a July report from the United Nations.

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