CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan -- As Afghan forces take the lead security role in Helmand province, a more mature relationship between Afghan National Security Forces and coalition forces has emerged.
Regimental Combat Team 7, based out of Twentynine Palms, Calif., has been a driving force behind setting operational conditions for the transition of lead security responsibility to the Afghan forces. Regimental Combat Team 7 deployed to Helmand province last October and after the departure of 1st Marine Division (Forward), assumed full responsibility as the Ground Combat Element for Regional Command Southwest.
“Taking over the division’s area of operations as a regiment was an exciting challenge,” said Lt. Col. James McArthur, the RCT-7 operations officer. “Being able to support Marines throughout such a large battle space is an opportunity not very many regiments get to experience.”
RCT-7’s 3,000 Marines and sailors have played a vital role in building the warfighting capability and capacity of the Afghan army and police. Central to RCT-7’s mission is support to Security Forces Assistance Advisor Teams of Regional Command Southwest. The advisor teams are comprised of 20-30 Marines who live and serve alongside Afghan soldiers and policemen.
As a result of the SFAATs and RCT-7 working together, the ANSF has become a more capable force that has demonstrated recent operational success against the insurgency, said Col. A. E. “Sparky” Renforth, RCT-7 commanding officer.
“The Afghan forces have really stepped up to take the lead in combat operations throughout the province,” said Renforth. “A great example is in Sangin, where the enemy recently launched an offensive. With minimal coalition aid, Afghan forces in the region quickly launched a counter offensive and secured the area.”
While the Afghan forces are consistently showing signs of being capable of independent operations, RCT-7 still provides vital support in a few critical areas, such as persistent surveillance and casualty evacuation for seriously wounded Afghans.
Marines in the RCT are pleased with the progress that has been made while supporting the advisor teams.
“Working with the (advisor teams) at the regimental level has been very rewarding,” said Capt. Adam Andress, the deputy director of the regiment’s Afghan National Security Forces liaison cell. “The relationships we have developed with the Marines and sailors have given us direct access to key ANSF leaders at every level and in every district throughout Regional Command Southwest.”
With Afghans in the lead, personnel and equipment requirements for the Marines have been reduced. RCT-7 has implemented a force realignment plan that provides the required support to ANSF, while setting the conditions for Coalition Forces in Helmand Province after 2014.
This means the retrograde of significant numbers of personnel and equipment from Afghanistan back to the U.S. so the Marine Corps can reconstitute and be ready to support future crises and contingencies.
The regiment has played a critical role in the retrograde of more than 59,000 pieces of gear, totaling over $328 million, while simultaneously providing combat operational support to over 20 security force assistance advisor teams, four infantry battalions, two Georgian liaison teams, one tank company and one engineer company, said 1st Lt. William McAloon, the assistant regimental logistics officer.
In addition to supporting advisor teams and retrograding equipment, the regiment is responsible for providing support to ground combat Marines throughout Helmand province. A large part of supporting these Marines is ensuring they are as safe as possible.
In order to accomplish this objective, the RCT frequently sends out the regimental infantry weapons officer and regimental engineer to inspect and improve anti-terrorism/force protection measures on bases throughout Helmand province, said Capt. Leland Schulz, the regimental engineer.
“It is our job to ensure that the bases where the Marines eat, sleep and work are as protected as we can possibly make them,” said Schulz.
After eight months on the ground in Afghanistan, the regiment remains focused on a successful transition of lead security responsibility to the Afghans.
“Watching the Afghan forces become more self-reliant and protect their people from the enemies of Afghanistan has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this deployment,” said Renforth. “I’m proud of the work RCT-7 has done to advance security and stability in Helmand province.