The last Marines withdrew from Helmand Province on Monday, leaving their massive headquarters base in Afghan hands.
They picked Camp Leatherneck clean of trash from final meals of packaged rations. Afghan soldiers swapped places with them at perimeter guard posts. Then all remaining forces assigned to NATO’s southwestern regional command — nearly 900 U.S. and British troops — flew out of adjoining Camp Bastion in waves of cargo planes and helicopters.
“It’s definitely a privilege to know you’re among the last Marines out, to be part of that legacy,” said Capt. Ryan Steenberge, fires officer with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, the infantry unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., that protected the base complex until the foreign pull-out.
At its peak, Bastion-Leatherneck-Shorabak was a bustling city with a population of 40,000 troops and contractors, its own base “mayor,” residential neighborhoods and post office.
Coalition forces in southwestern Afghanistan began a long drawdown in 2011 that culminated in the closure of 116 bases and transfer of 155 to Afghan control. Since February and the climax of the retrograde of equipment and personnel, more than 2,000 cargo plane-loads were flown out of the landlocked country.