Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Jeanette Steele Jeanette Steele
The Afghanistan district that cost dozens of San Diego Marines their lives is now in Taliban hands again. But was it “strategic retreat” or a heavy blow to the NATO effort there?
The opium-rich Sangin region of southern Afghanistan was overrun by Taliban troops late last week. The Taliban is celebrating it as a victory in the now 16-year-old war. But NATO and U.S. officials say they had planned for months to move a headquarters post a few miles away after Sangin’s civic center was badly deteriorated after many battles.
And, they say, anything of value was destroyed before Afghan soldiers left. U.S. aircraft were used to transfer Afghan personnel to the new location.
“There is nothing left in the old district center except dirt and rubble,” U.S. officials said.
Some observers are calling that spin. An analysis in The Long War Journal called that description of events “not credible.”
The group Terror Monitor said the Taliban released an infographic listing of an inventory of goods it captured as the “spoils of war.”
There’s no question that the anti-Taliban campaign known as Operation Resolute Support has seen mixed results.
Security in Afghanistan has been deteriorating since U.S. force levels dropped from a high of 100,000 in 2011 to the current size of roughly 9,000, according to the Institute for the Study of War.
Russia is also attempting to exert its influence.
“Russia will continue to establish itself as the dominant broker of peace in Afghanistan in order to gain leverage over the U.S. and NATO,” the same institute concluded in an update on Afghanistan last week.
Sangin is hallowed ground for some Camp Pendleton Marine veterans, after they bled to wrest it from the Taliban starting in 2010.
Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment took over there in 2010 as the American surge revved up in that country.
Some 50 U.S. Marines were mortally wounded in Sangin in part due to aggressive use of roadside bombs by the Taliban.
Half died with Camp Pendleton’s “Darkhorse” 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, the first Marine unit to serve a full seven-month tour in Sangin during the surge.
More than 200 of the battalion were seriously injured, in what was thought to be the worst casualty rate to that time for a unit its size during the Afghan war.
The British also paid a heavy price in the years just before.
As some lamented in the British press recently, Sangin accounted for a third of that nation’s dead in Afghanistan at the time.
Others in the West, including academics, expressed dismay and raised the question of whether this war will ever conclude.