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Hard-hit 2/7 begins return from Afghanistan

The Marine battalion that experienced more casualties than any other unit in the Corps this year has begun returning home from southern Afghanistan, a unit spokeswoman said Tuesday.

http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2008/11/marine_afghanreturn_110408w/

By Dan Lamothe - Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Nov 5, 2008 9:41:23 EST

Members of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, will return to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., said Maj. Kelly Frushour, a Marine spokeswoman in Afghanistan. Advance parties of Marines with the 1,000-strong battalion began arriving in California the week of Oct. 27, with most of the battalion arriving next month, said Mike Alvarez, a spokesman at Twentynine Palms.

At least 16 Marines and a Navy corpsman with the battalion were killed during a five-month period of the deployment that ended Oct. 31. The unit provided security, launched outreach efforts and helped train more than 800 Afghan police officers in southern Afghanistan, Marine officials said.

A special-purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force comprising units from North Carolina, Hawaii and California is expected to replace 2/7 and handle many of the same duties, Frushour said. Like 2/7, it will operate out of Camp Bastion, a British base in Helmand province.

Marines with 2/7 handled operations in the Helmand districts of Sangin, Gereskh, Musa Qaleh and Now Zad, and the Farah province districts of Delaram, Golestan, Bakwa and Bala Baluk, Frushour said. Afghan forces and International Security Assistance Forces commanded by Army Gen. Robert Cone have since taken over Sangin, Gereskh and Bala Baluk, Marine officials said.

In an e-mail to Marine Corps Times, battalion commander Lt. Col. Richard Hall said that in three districts designated the most dangerous, 2/7 used In-District Reform, a program through which Marines patrol the region and provide security while police recruits attend an eight-week boot-camp-style training program.

In the other five districts, the battalion used the Focused District Development program, with Marines training police recruits while a smaller, more highly trained Afghan police force — the Afghan National Civil Order Police — handled regional security.

The mission spread 2/7’s Marines over 10,000 square miles, Hall said, leaving some platoons to fight off ambushes more than eight hours away from Camp Bastion.

“Certainly, the tyranny of distance is problematic at times, but nothing insurmountable,” Hall said. “Aviation is an invaluable asset here.”