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'The Last Marines Leave Sangin Valley'

2:25 PM, May 6, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
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Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Sangin Valley, Afghanistan
For days I have been putting the same question to soldiers of the Afghan National Army: How do you feel about the imminent departure of Coalition forces? The answers are always variations on this one: "We are happy and sad," they say. "The Americans are our friends and partners. They helped us tremendously. We are sad to see them go. But we are happy that they can go back to their families. And we are happy that we can now defend our own country and defeat the enemy."

It's a heartening reply, accompanied by assurances that they have the military situation well in hand. They had better. The fighting season begins in a few days, once the poppy harvest is brought in. Few places in Afghanistan have seen as much bloodshed as this fertile belt running along the banks of the Helmand River. The British, who lost more than 100 of their troops here, found it impossible to control. The U.S. Marines took over in 2010, losing another 50 men.

The Marines won the fight. But now they are gone for good. Late Sunday night, I watched them depart from Forward Operating Base Nolay, the last of what were once 30 bases in the valley. As a final order of business they picked up the trash, turned over the garbage cans, and drove away, a long convoy of heavily armored vehicles slowly making their way to Camp Leatherneck in the desert, 60 miles away.

So are the Afghans ready?

The Marines who have been training and advising them for the past year are cautiously optimistic. The Afghans have been conducting security operations on their own for a year while the Marines have mostly stuck to their bases. They have shown initiative, adaptability, discipline, coordination and a fighting spirit. "At a time when nobody's talking about winning," one Marine officer tells me, "they are talking about winning."

Whole thing here.

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