With the future of the U.S.s role in Afghanistan in question, several hundred soldiers gathered at Fort Gordons Barton Field to say their good-byes 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 Nov. 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 513 Military Intelligence Brigade, said this time, the battalions 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 in the country.
The troops departure comes at a turning point in the 8-year-old war against Taliban forces in the mountainous middle-eastern country. Casualties are rising and the Obama administration is wrestling with the prospect of sending tens of thousands more troops or overhauling the entire U.S. strategy.
On Saturday, a fierce gun battle took the lives of 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 Augusts 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 originally 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, said Col. Mixon.
There are currently 969 Fort Gordon soldiers 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.