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For better or for worse, we made the Afghan army in our own image. After the Marines departed, Afghan commanders planned to expand their training areas into the formerly American and British areas of the base.
The Corps ended combat operations in Afghanistan a week ago, turned over what remained of its strategic, air and logistics hub to the Afghan army and withdrew from Helmand — the deadliest region of the country for coalition forces since the war began in 2001.Helmand was a Taliban stronghold where an insurgent tax on illegal opium poppy crops has been a major source of funding for enemy operations.The Marines lost more than 350 troops in the area’s lush “green zone” and deserts as they pushed insurgents out of Marjah, Sangin and other places where white enemy flags once flew in district centers.Camp life At its peak, Camp Leatherneck’s residents enjoyed the best amenities the Marine Corps offered in its area of operations. Daniel Yoo, the outgoing commanding general, for mentioning in a story a Marine nickname — Camp Pleasureneck.Wi-fi access, huge cafeterias overflowing with ice cream, 24-hour soup and sandwich stations in living areas, a base exchange stocked with everything from lipstick to laptops and The Coffee Bean shop for an afternoon latte. He thought I was belittling the service of people who worked at the base. The “Pleasureneck” jab was somewhat ironic and affectionate, because what passed for luxury or fit-versus-fat among Marines stationed there was rather spartan.The generals in charge of ground forces, the air wing and logistics set the course and managed day-to-day operations from there.
But the “tip of the spear,” the “point of friction” where theory and planning collided with reality as Marines encountered Afghan ally and enemy, lay beyond Camp Leatherneck.
I always pushed on from Camp Leatherneck as quickly as possible, heading to the smallest patrol bases where it was easier to get to know people and see strategy in action.
The massive headquarters complex was the Marine command’s seat of power, the brain behind the campaign in Helmand and neighboring Nimruz province.
"Though our combat mission ended in 2014, the UK continues to support the Government of Afghanistan through NATO’s train, advise and assist mission, Resolute Support.
Leaving Camp Leatherneck for the last time as a journalist who traveled there half a dozen times over the years, I felt a mix of pride and relief, sadness and uncertainty, emotions all tempered with disbelief that our long war in Afghanistan is at an end. Cepeda and I are en route home to San Diego, flying with Camp Pendleton Marines who were among the last international forces to pull out of Helmand province.
Why so much was invested in a military camp destined to be relinquished to Afghan forces, who lived and worked until now in a much smaller portion of the base called Shorabak, I do not understand.