Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 7 listen to a convoy brief at Forward Operating Base Delaram II in Nimroz province, Afghanistan, on April 8 before heading to Camp Leatherneck with the last supplies, equipment and team members of Security Force Assistance Advisor Team 4-215. (Sgt. Frances Johnson/Marine Corps)
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Earlier this month, the Marine Corps quietly took leave of Nimroz province, consolidating its operations in Afghanistan to a single province and completing another chapter in its drawdown efforts.
Nimroz and Helmand, bordering provinces along Afghanistan’s southern tip, comprise Regional Command–Southwest, the primary area of operations for the Marines. But while Helmand province —and particularly the districts of Marjah and Sangin — has been one of the most kinetic, insurgent-dense regions over the course of the war, the less-populous Nimroz has required less effort and attention from Marines.
U.S. military officials in Afghanistan told Marine Corps Times in late 2012 that Nimroz was well underway in its transition to Afghan control, and required only limited support from Marines.
The final departure of Marines from Forward Operating Base Delaram II on April 8 came after Afghan National Security Forces proved their mettle in providing security for a peaceful national election, officials with the Marine team advising the Afghans told Marine Corps Times.
“The timing was near-perfect for us to leave,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Ziegler, chief for the Security Force Advisory and Assistance Team advising the 4th Brigade of the Afghan National Army’s 215th Corps, which will provide security for Nimroz from now on. “The election was a capstone event that showed that, not only could they plan and conduct their own security over a very large area of operations, but they could also perform security operations to set the conditions for a successful election. Not only was the election an event in itself; everything that took place in that month prior to it really showed that they could be independent, continue on as a professional force and provide security to the people of Afghanistan there.”
Capt. Theo Martin, the operations adviser for the SFAAT, said Afghan troops had become adept at providing security along the major roads that cut through the province. In the final season of combat operations, improvised explosive device strikes on the roads had been few, and deadly insurgent attacks on civilians in Delaram, the largest town in Nimroz, numbered one or two.
“Delaram was awfully quiet compared to a lot of other places in Afghanistan and in Helmand province,” he said.
While Ziegler said the Marines had been prepared to occupy Delaram II longer if needed, only a skeleton force of 100 or so Marines from various units and minimal equipment remained inside the base in its final days. It took a team of Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 7 about 24 hours to pack up the remaining equipment and gear at the base — some 302,000 pounds of cargo consisting mainly of office equipment, communications systems, tents and supplies for the few remaining residents of the base. They loaded it on trucks for the three-hour convoy back to Camp Leatherneck.
Aside from some buildings and structures that were left standing, the Marines left little behind. What remains — primarily equipment tied to the function of the buildings — will be available for the ANSF to use or discard as they see fit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to complete construction of a nearby, fully equipped base for the 4th Brigade in October.
“Generators, water tanks, those kinds of things that we left behind, they can certainly repurpose those if they choose,” Ziegler said.
Officials have said that Regional Command–Southwest will soon transition to a train, advise and assist command as the remaining force in Helmand province contracts even further; but Martin and Ziegler said they did not know the timeframe for that transition, or what outpost the Marines planned to close next. Approximately 4,500 Marines remain within RC-SW; and officials with International Security Assistance Force have said they plan to reduce the total U.S. troop footprint in Afghanistan by more than 30 percent by the end of October.
After their return to Leatherneck from Nimroz, some Marines will return to parent units; others, like Martin, are preparing to redeploy to the United States, having completed their task. Both Ziegler and Martin expressed optimism about the future of Nimroz province and the capabilities of the 4th Brigade.
“I would say as we lift off these brigades, we’re closing a chapter,” Ziegler said. “As we close that chapter, I feel extremely confident about the future. We’re leaving behind capable security forces.”