The efforts in the Afghanistan region have been productive despite Taliban ploys to suggest otherwise, retired Sgt. Maj. Neil O'Connell tells NBC7's Lea Sutton.
As violent anti-American protests have increased in response to the inadvertent burning of Qurans at a military base, thousands of San Diego Marines are returning to Afghanistan to take over command in the southwest region.
The last wave of Marines from 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) is on the way to Afghanistan.
It's a scheduled rotation for Marines from Camp Pendleton, Miramar, Twenty-Nine Palms, and Yuma.
Most of the violence over the past week has been in northeast Afghanistan. Our local Marines are returning to their post in the southwest.
Retired Sergeant Major Neil O'Connell was with I MEF (Fwd.) on their last rotation.
He said the southwest region of Afghanistan has come a long way.
"We've got great efforts from starting up schools, to assisting with new forms of agriculture, to working to assist the children and the families,” O'Connell said.
The senior officer in the region plans to reduce the number of Marines by 10,000 by October.
O'Connell said it’s a sign of progress in One MEF's area of responsibility:
"The stability has reached a point in the Helmand province where we can start to collapse back onto our larger bases,” he said.
The plan is to draw down Marines and bases in the Southwest, and it's been ongoing.
There were around 250 bases last fall and the plan is to cut that to less than 30 by October.
Some experts say recent violence in areas like Kabul isn't representative of the country, that it's a political ploy being used by the Taliban.
“I think there's more violence in the north and in the capitol because that's where all the television cameras are, and that's where they’re going to get the most coverage”, said Ron Bee, a political science lecturer at San Diego State University.
As for what San Diego Marines will face, both taking over and drawing down, O'Connell said he's confident in the stability Marines have built in the southwest region.
“They see the good will of the U.S. forces. They see and they've experienced the friendships - that we are there to help them, we don't want to do any more than to help them and stabilize their village or their area", said O’Connell.
If the drawdown happens as planned, some One MEF Marines could come home early.
This deployment is scheduled for one year.
Lea Sutton covers stories involving San Diego's military community. Send her your thoughts via Twitter @nbcsandiego or add your comment to our Facebook page.
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