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A Marine detachment will soon become the latest U.S. unit to shift directly from Iraq to Afghanistan, continuing a trend that Pentagon officials have said could include future moves.

The detachment from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169 will join other members of the squadron serving in Afghanistan. Officials did not release specific timing because of security reasons. The detachment has been operating in Iraq for around three months.

The mission in Afghanistan for the "Vipers," as the unit is known, will be to provide offensive air support and utility support for other units, officials said.

More than half of the squadron is already in Afghanistan.

"We have been operating with about a third of the personnel, but we still have half a squadron’s worth of aircraft," Master Sgt. Sean McBride, senior enlisted adviser of the HMLA-169 detachment, was quoted as saying in a news release. "It’s been difficult and taxing on the Marines, but Marines do what they do best, and they have adapted to what the mission requires."

Military officials have said more units with specific "enabling skills" could be shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan as the U.S. military seeks to provide forces for an escalation of troops this year.

This spring, the Pentagon announced four units — including a transportation company, an engineer company and a support unit — had made the move from Iraq to Afghanistan.

As the U.S. military draws down from around 132,000 servicemembers in Iraq, officials are looking for ways to fill President Barack Obama’s orders that could nearly double the U.S. military’s current 38,000-troop commitment in Afghanistan.

By the end of 2011, officials have said, the U.S. military presence in Iraq could be down to between 30,000 and 50,000.


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