At the peak of fighting in Afghanistan's Helmand Province, there were 20,000 Marines battling the Taliban. Now there are 8,000 — and more are heading home every month.
Among the latest to pack up was Regimental Combat Team 7.
At their mission's recent closing ceremony, several hundred Marines gathered in the scorching desert heat at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province. Their tan, pixelated fatigues blended in amidst the vast expanse of sand-colored tents and buildings of the largest Marine base in Afghanistan.
Afghan soldiers take positions following a clash with Taliban fighters on the outskirts of the eastern city of Jalalabad on July 7. The U.S. is trying to organize peace talks, but the latest effort has been put on hold while the fighting continues.
The U.S. has been pushing the Taliban and the Afghan government to find a political solution for the past year and a half. But every time it seems the parties are close to starting peace talks, a new demand or controversy arises and nothing happens.
In the latest attempt, the Taliban finally opened a political office in Qatar, a move that was supposed to set the stage for negotiations. But when the Taliban envoys gave that office the trappings of an embassy, a furious Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, called off the talks, and they have yet to be re-scheduled.
Photos depict scenes at the $34 million command center in Camp Leatherneck, completed in November. U.S. troops will never use the facility, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says.
"On a recent trip to Afghanistan, I uncovered a potentially troubling example of waste that requires your immediate attention."
That's one of the opening lines of a letter the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction sent to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel this week. In it, Special Inspector General John Sopko detailed how a contract worth $34 million was used to build a facility U.S. troops will never use.