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VILSECK, Germany — Three years after deploying to southern Afghanistan near the height of the U.S. combat surge, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment signaled its pending return to the volatile region during a colors casing ceremony Wednesday.

The deployment of about 2,000 soldiers — close to half the regiment — to Kandahar province for a nine-month tour represents one of the last major U.S. combat tours to the region before combat operations end at the close of 2014.

Formations from the regiment’s six squadrons gathered at the high school football field on a cold, cloudy morning as their commander, Col. Douglas A. Sims, sheathed the unit colors, a tradition before a unit heads to the battlefield.

“We will live up to your expectations and justify the trust the nation has put in us,” Sims said.

Some soldiers from the unit are already en route to Afghanistan. The main body will deploy in the coming weeks.

The tour is expected to look much different from the regiment’s previous deployment to Afghanistan in 2010-2011, where a focus on securing Kandahar City and outlying areas meant regular contact with insurgents. The emphasis now is on advising Afghan brigade and battalion staffs as local forces take the lead in combat operations.

“We’re all back-chair guys now,” Sims said in an interview earlier this year. “Decisions and actions are being made by Afghans.”

Many of those deploying with the regiment are part of military adviser teams, groups of a dozen or more officers and noncommissioned officers with various areas of expertise who will work alongside Afghan counterparts. Other soldiers are tasked with moving and protecting the adviser teams, as well as packing and shipping materiel out of the country as the U.S. role in the war winds down.

The regiment is replacing a larger Army unit that occupied the same territory. In some areas, one squadron will own ground once covered by two squadrons, making commanders more reliant on Afghan police and army forces. Most soldiers will be stationed on larger forward operating bases versus the smaller, far-flung outposts of prior deployments, many which are now being turned over to Afghan forces.

Kandahar province is high-stakes ground in Afghanistan. Considered the birthplace of the Taliban movement, it includes the districts of Zhari, Panjwai and Maiwand, which together accounted for 12 percent of all enemy attacks during the 2012 fighting season, according to the Department of Defense. The violence has continued in 2013, with several roadside bombings claiming American lives in recent weeks.

Among questions surrounding the deployment is how U.S. and Afghan forces will work together now that the latter are in charge of operations. The NATO-led coalition in the country has made a point of denying some assets it once readily provided Afghan forces, including medical evacuation and air support. Afghan forces, in turn, have taken more casualties in recent fighting.

beardsley.steven@stripes.comTwitter: @sjbeardsley


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