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Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, I Marine Expeditionary Force commanding general, holds a press conference with local reporters aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Dec. 28.

Photo by Sgt. Bryan Peterson

Gurganus visits Camp Lejeune, discusses future of Afghanistan

28 Dec 2011 | Lance Cpl. Lia Adkins

The commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, visited Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune for a press conference, recently, to explain how the Marine Corps’ role in Afghanistan will shift as Marines begin to drawback from the war.

“Regional Command Southwest is a much different place than it was in 2009 when (Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson) took the first large group of Marines there, and much of it has been a success story,” said Gurganus.

Gurganus will be assuming his position as commanding general of Regional Command Southwest, and more than 18,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan as the Marine Corps prepares to withdraw its troops. Marines have already begun to break down a large number of patrol bases that used to be necessary, and large numbers of equipment has begun to redeploy back to the United States.

Marines and their coalition partners, including the Afghan National Army, have successfully reduced the amount of Taliban strongholds in the northern Helmand province, which is allowing the Afghan government to regain control.

“These successes have allowed a much greater degree of freedom of movement and that’s important because it gives (Afghans) an opportunity to build roads and bridges, which has enabled farmers to get their products to market,” said Gurganus. “It also allows government officials to get out and travel among the different districts, so they can connect with the leaders of the districts. All of these are positive steps for (the community).”

As the ANA and police have begun to reach their target number of troops, they are beginning to take more responsibility in leading their counterinsurgency.

“It’s time to shift our focus from being in the lead to more of an advising role, but continue to train the Afghans to develop the capabilities that they need not only for today but for long after we reduce our forces,” said Gurganus. He added that a large part of the shift includes allowing the Afghan army to take charge of counterinsurgency operations.

Many districts including Nawa, Marjah and Lashkar Gah have already begun to transition into Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan control.

“The Afghan national, provincial and district governments are going to have to be responsible for providing not only security but also the basic services for their people,” added Gurganus. “That will be the true definition of success. I think over the course of the last two or three years, we have seen some tremendous gains in that province and I look forward being part of that and continue to help the people in Afghanistan.”

Currently, half of the total forces deployed are out of MCB Camp Lejeune. The Marines and sailors have assisted in training the ANA and police basic tactics, techniques and procedures, patrolling with them, and partnering with their forces to give them the confidence they will need to keep control once the forces withdraw. Gurganus expressed his pride in the way Marines have developed since the war began.

“It’s been one of the really amazing things to watch over the last 10 years not only in Afghanistan but also in Iraq,” said Gurganus. “We have a much more mature force than I think we’ve had since I’ve been in the Marine Corps. A lot of young Marines are (becoming) very good at making decisions and very good at making the right decisions in some very difficult circumstances. We’ve got some leaders that have really stepped up to the plate, young guys that are going to be around for a long time, and that are really going to make a difference in the quality of our Corps.”

The majority of II MEF Marines and sailors are set to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2012.