KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The United States will send some 300 Marines to Afghanistan's southern Helmand province to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces, who have been struggling to drive Taliban insurgents out of the opium-rich region.
U.S. Navy Capt. Bill Salvin, a spokesman for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, said the Marines will begin deploying this year and will remain in the province for nine months, where they will work with the Afghan army and militarized national police.
"The Marine Corps has a long operational history in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand Province. Advising and assisting Afghan defense and security forces will assist in preserving gains made together with the Afghans," he said.
The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, but thousands of troops remain in the country, where they train and assist Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism operations.
The Taliban are battling Afghan forces on a number of fronts, and the fighting has been particularly intense in Helmand, where the insurgents have repeatedly assaulted the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, in recent months.
Helmand is the main source of poppies for Afghanistan's thriving opium trade, which is worth an estimated $4 billion a year, much of which funds the insurgency. Provincial officials estimate the Taliban controls 85 percent of the province, up from just 20 percent a year ago.
In northern Afghanistan, meanwhile, a roadside bomb killed two police officers and wounded another three, according to Sakhi Dad Haidari, head of the Badakhshan province's criminal investigation department. The Taliban claimed the attack.
Over the past week, Afghan forces have been carrying out clearing operations in different parts of the province. Haidari said around a dozen insurgents have been killed and wounded.