400 Illinois National Guards troops heading to Afghanistan

CHICAGO — The Illinois National Guard is set to deploy about 400 soldiers to Afghanistan in what officials say is the largest mobilization of Guardsmen and women from the state in nearly a decade.

The Chicago Tribune reports that members of the 178th Infantry Regiment that's headquartered on Chicago's South Side and has companies from as far away as the Peoria area will start leaving this weekend to start a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan in support of "Operation Freedom's Sentinel."

The soldiers will first go to Fort Bliss in Texas before heading to Afghanistan about the time of the country's planned presidential election on Sept. 28.

Sgt. Joseph Ratkovich, 26, is a national guardsman from Plainsfield who is being deployed this weekend. This will be his third tour in Afghanistan.

"When I was there, they had elections the Taliban weren't too happy about, what came of the elections, fighting increased and bombings increased against civilians, Afghan army and local police," Ratkovich said.

Ratkovich is with the 33rd Brigade Combat Team. He joined the army nine years ago at age 18.

The 400 soldiers being deployed are from companies in Woodstock, Elgin, Joliet, Kankakee and downstate Bartonville.

The soldiers will be supporting and training the Afghan army, advising them on counter-terrorism strategies against Al-Queda and ISIS affiliated groups.

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has dropped in the past decade, but there are still some 14,000 U.S. servicemen and women there.

President Trump commented on the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan earlier this week.

"I have plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth," Trump said. "It would be over literally in ten days."

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