Talking Proud --- Military

Afghanistan’s hell, the Sangin Valley: Why Sangin?

“The Valley of Death”

November 7, 2011


British soldiers enter in their quarters at Sangin camp in the southern province of Helmand June 10, 2007. The fighting here over many years has been so fierce and deadly that British forces called it “Sangingrad” after the WWII Battle for Stalingrad. Photo credit: Reuters/Ahmad Masood

An American Marine said this in a recent HBO documentary:

  • “Marines do not fight wars. They fight battles.”

This report will show that to be true, but it will also show a lot more.

The focus here is on what I will call the Battles of Sangin Valley, Afghanistan. These battles were many, and they remain many to this day, one of the most difficult and lethal aspects of the Afghan War.



The Sangin District is in the Helmand River Valley, Afghanistan. British forces have called it “Sangingrad,” after the tortuous battle of Stalingrad in WWII. Others have called it the most dangerous place in the world. Others have called it “No Go Valley.”

Sgt. Dean Davis, a US Marine correspondent, described Sangin this way:

“Sangin is one of the prettier places in Helmand, but that’s very deceiving. It’s a very dangerous place; it’s a danger you can feel.”

One from the British 2 Rifles said:


“The problem with Sangin Valley is it is where the Taliban and Islamist insurgents flock to.”

For purposes of my report, ferocious fighting has been in train there daily, often many times in one day, between the Allies and the enemy, largely the Taliban reinforced by fighters from other Islamic countries, since 2006.

It is now 2011. I just read a report dated July 14, 2011 by Gretel Kovach about Sangin that starts off this way:

“There hasn’t been a lot of good news coming out of Sangin lately. After a year of punishing losses among the insurgent ranks, the Taliban finally launched a counteroffensive to retake their former stronghold in the poppy fields of southwestern Afghanistan.

“The Camp Pendleton unit fighting to rout them from Sangin, the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, has lost seven Marines killed in a little more than a month, and many more wounded.”

Remember, that is a 2011 assessment.

Julius Cavendish reported for
Time magazine on March 10, 2011 that one western diplomat viewed the current situation this way:

Sangin Valley poppy farm. Photo credit: SSgt Jeremy Lock, USAF

"Basically in Sangin they have lots of guns, lots of heroin infrastructure, key distribution points, and zero interest in 'government' — which may just want to control the heroin ... It's not always useful to look at things as 'government' versus 'Taliban' rather than a hotch-potch of interest groups — cut along tribal, political, historical lines — fighting for control."

Frankly, it is hard as an outsider separated by thousands of miles to get a grip on where we stand in Sangin. All this editor knows is that the battles there continue to rage and lives in large numbers continue to be lost.

The Marine talking about war vs. battles was right. Our men and their Allies are fighting as hard there today as the men who fought there back in 2006.

A challenge here is to try to understand “Why Sangin?,” understand how the Allies organized to fight there, and pass on some experiences of the men and women who fought there.

This has been a very hard report to assemble and complete, and I warn you it will be a hard report through which to wade. When I began this effort, I knew nothing of the Sangin Valley. I have learned that to be a grave shortcoming on my part as so many have sacrificed so much to fight there.

To keep the report manageable, I have chosen to start at 2006 and to focus on British forces and US Marines at a top level with regard to unit identification and participation. I apologize to the many forces in the Sangin fight whom I will not mention. I am awed by your tenacity, courage, discipline, and sacrifice.

I’ll start by describing Sangin and tackle the question, “Who cares?” I will then step through deployments to the Sangin District and its near environs in some semblance of chronological order. As I indicated, this will be a hard report through which to labor. But if you can make it through, you will have learned a lot about how the Afghanistan War has been fought. And, more important, you will, I am certain, leave it with enormous respect for the men and women who were there, and you will be sad for those who died and were wounded there, for their families and friends.

This has to be done in sections.

Sangin: Where is it, who cares?

The mission creep

The British take over Helmand, Operation Herrick

  • 3 Commando Brigade: Task Force Helmand, Operation Herrick V
  • 12 Mechanized Brigade: Task Force Helmand, Operation Herrick VI
  • 52 Infantry Brigade: Task Force Helmand, Operation Herrick VII

The arrival of US Marines and the American surge: 2008

British Operation Herrick VIII and US Marines set up Camp Leatherneck

The British 11 Light Brigade and 2 MEB

I MEF arrives, the largest Marine command yet in Afghan

October 2011, the Marines are still pushing

The price of sacrifice in the Sangin Valley