Camp Leatherneck is Afghanistan’s next ghost town

Plane hatch opens onto Camp Bastion. Time to meet the Marines. Photo by Hope Hodge Seck

Plane hatch opens onto Camp Bastion. Time to meet the Marines. Photo by Hope Hodge Seck

By Hope Hodge Seck

Camp Leatherneck–Greetings from Camp Leatherneck, a once-bustling base in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that is rapidly becoming a ghost town.

Leatherneck is home to most of the 4,500 Marines remaining in Afghanistan, down from some 20,000 at the peak of fighting here.

While the base still has a sprawling footprint, whole sections are emptying as units and elements complete their mission and go home.

Meanwhile, Leatherneck is still home to an array of coalition troops, including Jordanian, Georgian, Estonian, and Danish forces, as well as some 2,500 British troops stationed at Camp Bastion, which borders Leatherneck.

On April 29, though, the base did say farewell to the last contingent of Tongans, some 50 troops who completed their mission with a traditional dance ceremony. The tiny Polynesian kingdom of just over 100,000 people, has seen 75 percent of its military deploy in support of Operation Enduring Freedom over the last 13 years, Marine officials said.

The Marines’ footprint has contracted significantly within Helmand province; from nearly 250 forward operating bases two years ago, four FOBs and patrol bases remain in use: Camp Dwyer in Garmsir district, FOB Nolay and PB Sabit Qadam in the Sangin district, and PB Boldak near Camp Leatherneck. That number is set to shrink again soon.

Here at Camp Leatherneck, though, some things remain the same: the dining hall is still serving three hot meals a day, and the USO is still offering troops comfy leather couches, free WiFi, and a chance to send a letter home.

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