The uncertainty made Gen. Robert Neller, the top Marine Corps officer, hesitant to send Marines to Helmand again after he was asked by the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan last fall, according to U.S. military officials familiar with the deliberations. Before Task Force Southwest deployed in April, Neller told the 300 Marines that part of their mission, along with assisting the Afghans, was to “not get blown up.” When Neller visited Helmand in July, and was asked by Marines what they were fighting to achieve, he was blunt that no victory was in sight.

“I can’t guarantee your kids won’t be here in 20 years with another old guy standing in front of them,” he said, according to multiple Marines at the meeting.