202nd gets farewell before third Afghanistan deployment

With the future of the U.S. role in Afghanistan in question, several hundred soldiers gathered at Fort Gordon's Barton Field to say their goodbyes Tuesday before their deployment next week.


This is the third time the soldiers of the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion have been sent to Afghanistan, and their fifth deployment since November 2001. They were last in Afghanistan from November 2007 to May 2008, where they gave intelligence support to NATO operations in the country.

Col. Lawrence Mixon, the commander of the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade, said that this time the battalion's mission will focus on gathering human intelligence for U.S. and coalition forces -- including interrogating and debriefing prisoners taken off the battlefield.

"There will be a core group at the interrogation center, and teams will be deployed elsewhere in direct support of troops," said Col. Mixon, who declined to say where the troops will be sent.

The unit's departure comes at a turning point in the 8-year-old war against Taliban forces. Casualties are rising, and the Obama administration is wrestling with the prospect of sending tens of thousands more troops or overhauling the U.S. strategy.

On Saturday, a fierce gun battle killed eight U.S. soldiers and two Afghan security troopers after hundreds of Taliban militants overwhelmed their remote outposts. It was the heaviest loss of life in a single battle since July 2008.

And on Monday, election workers began recounting suspect ballots in August's disputed presidential vote. A ruling on whether President Hamid Karzai won or will have to face a runoff is likely next week.

Col. Mixon hinted at the turbulent times ahead in his remarks to the soldiers. He equated their deployment next week to the uncertainty felt in 2001, when the battalion was sent to Afghanistan less than two months after the 9/11 attacks.

"Now after eight years and three more deployments, the 202nd deploys to Afghanistan at a crucial time in the conflict," he said.

Currently, 969 Fort Gordon service personnel are deployed overseas, mainly to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to the Army, these include personnel from the Navy, Marines, Air Force and medical units, according to Marla Jones, a Fort Gordon spokeswoman.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.