Afghanistan’s hell, the Sangin Valley: Why Sangin?
November 7, 2011, updated February 16, 2017
October 2011 and beyond in the Sangin
Well, we started in 2006 and it’s now October 2011. I intend to keep tracking events in the Sangin District for, perhaps, several years ahead. We and our Allies have paid a high price for this turf, and we need to see what happens to it.
US-Afghan forces fail to break Taliban in Sangin
The New York Times reported on February 16, 2017 that US and Afghan forces have failed to break the Taliban hold in Sangin. US troops had joined a small garrison of Afghan forces positioned in government buildings. NATO has confirmed US forces were there. They helped to regain some lost positions, then withdrew and the Taliban reoccupied those positions. Civilian casualties have been heavy, in pat allegedly due to US air attacks.
Marines returning to Helmand as Sangin may have fallen
There are unconfirmed reports the Taliban recaptured Sangin toward the end of 2016 - early 2017. What is for sure is the US Marines will send a task force of about 300 men back to Helmand this spring. The units will remain for nine months and rotate in and out. The task force will be known as Task Force Southwest. Andrew deGrandpre and Shawn Snow reported for the Marine Times on January 6, 2017, "Task Force Southwest will comprise mostly more-senior military personnel pulled from units across II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, including from the 6th Marine Regiment." Brigadier General Roger B. Turner Jr. will command. The Marines will replace an Army unit. turner said, "We're viewing this as a high-risk mission that really requires training to ensure our Marines are capable of countering the full spectrum of threat. We're not in any way viewing this as a noncombat mission, or something to take lightly. We're following the situation [in Helmand] closely ... to make sure the training and force protection is commensurate with that threat."
Sangin has been a hotly contest area whee British and US forces have fought fierce battles over a long period of time. The Taliban between 2002 and 2006 had generally retreated to safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan to refresh, recruit, re-equip, reorganize and prepare to fight again. The enemy’s previous intensive fighting reappeared again roughly in 2006.
I have been watching events in this area since 2006. I have been reporting them in a series, "Afghanistan’s hell, the Sangin Valley: Why Sangin? 'The Valley of Death'" since November 2011, going back to Britain's 16 Assault Brigade taking over Helmand in Operation Herrick IV, May 2006 - October 2006, and have been updating the report since 2011.
From where I sit, given the British and American blood that has been spilled here, the return of the Marines signals bad news. (010716)
Taliban once again threatening Sangin District
The Taliban once again launched attacks against the Sangin District centre. Afghan forces supported by US air attacks have thus far beaten them back. The Taliban threat remains.
Afghan forces withdraw from Sangin district
The New Indian Express reported on February 20, 2016 that Afghan forces have withdrawn from Sangin District in Helmand Province. They had earlier retreated from Musa Qala district as well.
Taliban close to taking Sangin again
The Taliban almost overran Sangin in December 2015, but Afghan forces held them off, and have maintained a small bastion of a few government buildings and bases, while the Taliban controlled the town center and large rural areas in the neighborhood. Now it appears the Taliban are about to launch yet another attack to finish the job. It looks grim but the Afghan Army is still holding on as of this date. (020816)
Sangin may have fallen
Sources in Sangin have told the UK's Independent that the afghan Army has abandoned its base and police headquarters in the town of Sangin and that the Taliban now control the entire district. Reinforcements have been dispatched, some small number of British forces are there, and it is arguable whether the Taliban will be able to hold the town, but reports form the area are grim. (122315)
British deploy some troops to Helmand
Given the dire situation in Helmand Province and the fierce battles that continue there, Britain announced it was deploying advisers to the restive area. The situation is so bad that Britain felt compelled to send in a small contingent of ground forces to help. I have read one report that said Britain reportedly did this as a unilateral action, outside the NATO "training" umbrella.However, a MoD spokesperson said, "As part of the UK's ongoing contribution to NATO's Resolute Support Mission, a small number of UK personnel have deployed to Camp Shorabak in Helmand Province in an advisory role. These personnel are part of a larger NATO team, which is providing advice to the Afghan National Army. They are not deployed in a combat role and will not deploy outside the camp." The U.K. has 450 troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO's training mission." (122315)
Taliban advancing rapidly in Helmand, Sangin included
Afghan officials have expressed concerned over what they described as "the rapid advance of the Taliban" in Helmand Province and warned several areas in the southern province may fall to the militant group. On December 19, 2015 Helmand Deputy Governor Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar pleaded for urgent reinforcement and assistance from Kabul. On December 18, some 44 people in Sangin were killed. The governor said The Taliban now controls the main highway that links Marjah to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Several areas in Helmand appear primed to fall to the Taliban. Afghan forces are said to be exhausted. (122015)
Fighting on again in Sangin
Fighting between Afghan and Taliban forces has resumed, with dozens killed in the last few days. Provincial governor Mirza Khan Rahimi said on November 14, 2015, Dozens of people from both sides have been killed and several others injured as clash between government forces and Taliban rebels intensified in the troubled Sangin district over the past couple of days." The Taliban claims to have captured five checkpoints. The government reportedly intends to launch a major offensive in the Marja, Babaji and Nad Ali districts. To make matters worse, at least 65 Afghan soldiers defected to the Taliban in Helmand along with their weapons and equipment.
Kajaki power plant cut off by fighting
Fighting between Afghan and Taliban forces has halted power distribution from the Kajaki power plant near Sangin in Helmand Province. Apparently power lines have been cut. (040615)
Fighting in Sangin remains bloody
The Sangin District of Helmand Province remains a volatile area. Heavy and bloody fighting continues according to the Wal Street Journal report of April 1, 2015. An ambulance driver who lives in Sangin, according to this report, travels to Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital about four times per week to transport the wounded. He has said Taliban ambushes and roadside bombs are an everyday occurrence. (040115)
Iraq says it has retaken control of Sangin
The Iraqi MoD says it has retaken the Sangin District from ISIS, with a lot of help from US Coalition air forces. (101314)
Enemy mines around Sangin hindering Afghan actions to improve security
The Taliban has laid down an extensive mine network around the Sangin District. This has hindered Afghan Security Forces from securing the area. Security in the area is steadily decreasing as a result. Many of the victims of mines thus far have been civilians. (100914)
Government may not be hold Sangin District
The New York Times reported on September 6, 2014 that Afghan officials say they may not be able to hold the Sangin District against an enemy offensive that has been raging in Helmand Province since June. Authorities are worried about Musa Qala. The Afghan Army has been waging a counteroffensive since July and August and pushed the enemy out of the Sangin District, but the enemy has returned. The Taliban has been fortunate not to have to worry about American air attacks. (090614)
Sangin fighting has claimed 900 lives
The Pajhwok Afghan News reported on August 18, 2014, “Fighting in the Sangin district of southern Helmand province has so far claimed 900 lives, leaving over a thousand others injured.” The battles in Sangin began about two months ago. (081814)
Taliban said to hold “huge swatches of Helmand Province
The British Daily Mail reported on July 5, 2014, “Huge swathes of Helmand Province ... are once again in the hands of the Taliban ... The districts of Now Zad, Musa Qala and Sangin have been overrun by insurgents after British troops withdrew to the security of Camp Bastion – the last remaining UK base in the province.” The newspaper said its sources were a series of e-mails by a British intelligence officer behind the wire at Bastion. (070614)
Taliban launches major offensive to regain control of Sangin
Some 800 Taliban fighters have been attacking in northern Helmand province beginning in late June 2014 in an effort to regain control of Sangin. Thus far the government has held and is reinforcing, but fighting continues. (070214)
Marines leave northern Helmand
Some 300 Marines from 1-7 Marines departed their last two outposts (FOBs Nolay and Sabit Qadam) in Sangin district, Helmand province on May 4, 2014 and went to Camp Leatherneck farther to the south. The Afghan National Army is now fully in charge up there. (050514)
Afghan Operation Eagle 144 said to clear Sangin Valley of enemy
The Afghan Arny’s 2nd and 3rd Brigades, 215 Corps, conducted Operation Oqab 144 (Eagle 144), January 27-Feruary 4, 2014 in the Sangin Valley, with only advisory support from the US. The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has reported, “It was a process to eliminate hostile threats from the Sangin Valley, Helmand province, Afghanistan, prior to the upcoming national election. The US Security Force Assistance Advisor Team 2-215 supported them. There was some resistance and casualties. CENTCOM reported, “Oqab 144 marks one of the first operations in the region during which the populace hasn’t seen a coalition force presence. Security Force Assistance Advisor Team 2-215 played a silent role in the operation offering only advisory assistance and minimal relief in casualty evacuations.” (022014)
Afghan Army commander gives outposts to Taliban --- or did they?
It depends on whom you believe as to whether Afghan forces gave any outposts over to the Taliban. The Wall Street Journal reported on January 2, 2014 that Afghan forces have made many impressive gains through 2013 in Sangin, even if some US commanders were on pins and needles at times. In May and June, the Taliban did take over three police checkpoints but lost them within a few days of fighting. The enemy does continue to assassinate civilians in the district, moving through bazaars and killing. The district governor has acknowledged that some low ranking officers were cutting deals with the Taliban, and in one instance even allowed Taliban to go on patrol with their units. However, Afghan officials do not admit to anything more specific. (010314)
Initial reports now seem confirmed that at least one Afghan Amy company commander turned over two outposts to the Taliban. The Afghan Army is investigating and says they will take them back. But now the Mirror of Britain is reporting that Afghan government forces are going on patrols with Taliban fighters. Here is a brief recap of what has been reported ... note the dates of order. (122113)
The Khaarma Press reported on December 16, 2013 that an unnamed member of the Helmand provincial council has asserted that Afghan Army forces have turned over several checkpoints to the Taliban in the Sangin District. During the height of violence in this district, it was known as the “No go valley” as the result of ferocious fighting there borne by British and US forces, both of whom shed considerable blood there. Government officials deny the report. We will try to follow up. (121613)
A Marine Corps spokesman in Helmand Province has said he has nothing to verify the report below but the Marines and Afghans are checking it out. (121813)
The New York Times reported this story on December 18, 2013 and it does look to be true. Apparently at least one Afghan Army company commander ceded two checkpoints to the Taliban, and even arranged for Taliban to be driven into Sangin and introduced to the people. Afghan command is investigating but has said that there can be no such deal, the Afghan Army will take back the checkpoints, and no further deals like this will be made. However, look for such deals to spread as US forces withdraw, a local means of trying to keep the peace. (121913)
Marines say Afghans achieving successes in Sangin
The US Marines are now playing a secondary role in the Sangin district, working along with the ANA’s 2nd Brigade 215 Corps and Afghan local police. The Marines say, “The (ANA) brigade is governing the region successfully and working with the local police to maintain stability as ‘one team with one objective.’ Although the brigade is achieving success, they are still working hard to improve their capabilities.” Of interest, and we have repeated this notion over and over, is that the Marines are there in an advisory role, but providing such advice and training requires they go out with the Afghans into combat situations. Col. Christopher Douglas, the team leader for the Marines deployed in Sangin, said, “We’re here to re-enforce the Afghan solution.” Capt. Paul Tremblay, the deputy team leader, commented, “Whether we’re in the lead, they’re in the lead or we’re shoulder-to-shoulder, we’re trying to solve this complex problem together.” These Marine advisors expect to be among the last to leave Afghan during the US withdrawal. (120513)
Sangin District remains one of the most violent places in Afghan
National Public Radio (NPR) reported on October 6, 2013, “The Sangin district in southern part of the country is still one of the most violent places in Afghanistan. Afghan forces clash with the Taliban and other militants there on a daily basis.” Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are experiencing record numbers of casualties. General Joseph Dunford, USMC, commander, ISAF, continues to maintain such losses are not sustainable. (100613)
Afghan Army having problems holding on in Sangin --- being overrun
The New York Times reported on September 11, 2013 that the Afghan Army is having trouble holding on in the Sangin District of Helmand Province. Furthermore, the Times said most people in the district favor the Taliban. Afgahn Col. Abdulhai Neshat said, “It’s difficult to find local people who are against the Taliban … This place is like a prison.” The Taliban, since launching an offensive in May 2013, has gradually been taking the region over and the Afghan Army has been unable to reclaim lost territories. The Sangin district governor, Habibullah Shamlanai, said, “Right now, Sangin is like an open space for the Taliban … Anyone can enter, and anyone can leave.” (091213)
The Taliban is back, and wants the Sangin Valley back
The Talban, after a respite from the Sangin District of Helmand Province, Afghan, is back, and with a vengeance. They have launched a series of fights since May 25, according to Major General W. Lee Miller, commander, RC-SW. He said many have come in from Bagran, a mountainous sparsely populated district north of the Kajaki Dam, as well from Kandahar. Miller said they are attacking all over, trying to find weakness in Afghan security. The ANA has the lead, but the 2-8 Marines are there at present, working as a maneuver unit, while the 3-4 Marines are working in northern Helmand in an advise and assist mission on Sangin, Kajaki and Musa Qala. Col. Thomas Collins, a spokesman with the International Security Assistance Force overseeing coalition forces, downplayed the attacks in Helmand, saying, “The enemy remains capable of sporadic attacks,” he said. “They attacked several police checkpoints in Sangin roughly simultaneously, but they were unable to take or hold the ground. They inflicted some casualties on Afghan security forces, but they suffered far more and were never a serious threat. These attacks failed.” All this said, the fight in Sangin is on again. (090413)
Brits not quite finished with combat --- special forces hitting Taliban in Sangin
The Telegraph reported on August 13, 2013, “An elite unit of paratroopers and Royal Marines has been carrying out secret raids on Taliban fighters and supply lines months after ministers and generals announced that British troops had stopped offensive operations in Afghanistan.” These troops apparently have been working against the Taliban in the Sangin area, which at one time was the most dangerous place in Afghanistan. The British apparently conducted “relentless raids” employing a strike group of about 150 working with Afghan special forces. US V-22 Osprey and CH-53 helicopters supported them. The operations have been kept secret; one raid was known to occur in May 2013. One officer reportedly told an Army magazine, “(close-up killing is) exactly what we all joined up to do.” (081913)
Helmand leaders very worried about Sangin
Contrary to opinions expressed by US and Afghan military leaders, provincial leaders in the Sangin District of Helmand province have expressed great concern about the return of the Taliban enemy. They have warned that the enemy will return once Allied forces are withdrawn. They allege the enemy is already holding outlying areas and will soon threaten Musa Qala and Sangin. Haji Abdul Bari Barkzai, the Helmand provincial council chief, has said, “Every day security is getting worse. We are very wary that we soon might have a security crisis. He said Musa Qala is already largely in enemy hands. (061413)
Fighting in Sangin continues, ANSF gaining upper hand…
Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) remain heavily involved in Sangin since their major push began on May 28, 2013. But it’s June 10, 2013, and the fight is still on, longer than expected. This was supposed to be a three day operation. The Afghans as of June 10 had lost 50, mostly to IEDs. They are however making good use of mortars and the Taliban have been outgunned and low on ammunition. The photo shows a ANA soldier firing 60 mm mortar rounds at enemy positions in the Sangin area on May 29, 2013. The ANSF has also kept Route 611 open and secure. People in the district are said to be tired of the Taliban and supportive of the ANSF. The worry is that fighting in this district has been extremely violent for so many years, and it remains so, even if the ANSF is confident it is close to victory. The Taliban retreat, regroup, rearm and come back, time after time. (061313)
General predicts Taliban’s defeat in Sangin imminent
Major General Walter L. Miller, USMC, commander, RCS-SW, said this about the recent fighting in Sangin on May 29, 2013: “[The ANA] are closing that fight rapidly. They have done quite well. I suspect that by tomorrow the Taliban will be defeated and will move out of Sangin.” After all these years, and all that blood, still trying to defeat the Taliban in Sangin. That said, General Miller also said Sangin has been running smoothly for about the past year, and added, “They (the residents) do not want to slip back, and they definitely would not allow the Taliban in.” Miller expects continued fighting in this poppy rich region, long the Taliban stronghold. The Afghan security forces have the lead. Only about 7,000 Marines remain deployed throughout the southwest region, down from a high of 20,000. (052913)
Two day battle over in Sangin
Foreign Policy reported on May 22, 2013, “A two-day battle in the Sangin district of Helmand appeared to be ending May 21, 2013 with Afghan forces saying as many as 26 Taliban insurgents and four policemen were dead (Pajhwok, WSJ). The governor's spokesman claimed hundreds of Taliban fighters launched coordinated attacks on police posts in the district and that they had no help from coalition forces. Spokesmen for the NATO contingent were more circumspect, saying the Taliban force totaled between 80 and 100 fighters, that the attacks were no more than ‘drive-by shootings,’ and that U.S. Marines in the area would have joined the fighting had the Taliban presented a significant threat to Afghan forces. (052213)
A report by Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2012, said, “Now, with those additional troops having departed, American forces cannot leave Camp Leatherneck (Sangin Province, the most deadly of them all) without getting fired at or bombed on any given day. An unprecedented assault on their base in mid-September saw 15 Taliban fighters enter Leatherneck, blow up six Harrier jets and three refueling stations and kill two Marines before they were stopped. The daily fight right beyond the wire is bitter and unwelcome evidence of the stalemate that exists in southern and eastern Afghanistan.”
Progress made, but is fast evaporating as Marines leave
The 1-7 Marines were in charge in the Sangin Valley in September 2012 and were controlling rice as much territory with half as many Marines back in 2011. The 1-7 Marines returned to the US on October 7, 2012, and the situation is now taking a turn for the worse as the Afghan National Army (ANA) finds itself unable to cope. While the 1-7 was preparing to leave, it had to remain in the fight to help the ANA. One officer said the Taliban keep coming back. The 1-7 was then limited in what it could do as the high command stopped combined patrols with the ANA because of the green-on-blue attacks by friendlies against US forces. The 2-5 Marines left in September. This has left the 2-7 Marines as the only battalion left in this northern region of Helmand. The 308 Marines are handling southern Helmand. The ANA thus far appears unprepared to handle the job without the Marines by their side. (101312)
Marines conduct massive attack in Kajaki district
The Kajaki District of Helmand Province, at the northern end of the Sangin Valley, and host of the Kajaki dam so critical to irrigation and hydropower, remains a tough to defeat stronghold for the enemy. Within the past few days, the Marines launched Operation Branding Iron employing eight airborne assault waves of Marines to flush out and destroy enemy in the area. The fighting at times was intense, with two days worth of hard-fought firefights. The enemy attempted to lure the Marines into fields of IEDs, but the Marines stood fast and did not get sucked in. After four days, the enemy receded and the Marines departed. The photo shows Cpl. Greg Dominguez, USMC, firing on the enemy’s position with his machine gun during a firefight. (071612)
IED remains the main threat in Sangin District
As of late June 2012, the IED remains the number one threat on Helmand provinces Sangin District, Afghan. At this moment, B/1-7 Marines have the deck and the con for this district’s security. They are supported by two, two-man Marine Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams, both based at FOB Shamsher. (062912)
Army Combat Engineers to make major improvements to Kajaki Dam
A great deal of Allied blood, especially British and American, was spilled to protect the Kajaki Dam at the northern end of the Sangin Valley in Helmand Province. US Army Combat Engineers have several projects on their plate to improve water flow for irrigation and electric power generation. To do these will require solid security. As of May 2012, the US Marines were securing the dam, the 1-8 Marines to be specific. They continue to be involved in fighting off the Taliban in the Kajaki district. This district has long been a Taliban stronghold. We need to observe whether the Marines will remain here or whether they will be withdrawn as part of the overall Marine withdrawal due to be complete by September 2012. (062512)
Marines-ANA conduct battalion-size operation in Sangin
So it’s June 2012, our forces, many of whom are Marines in Helmand Province, are withdrawing, yet 7th Marines had to join up with ANA forces to conduct a three day battalion-size operation which included helicopter air assaults in Sangin to clear caches, destroy safe havens and drug producing facilities, and clear the area. In reading a summary of what was known as Operation Sangin United Horizons, May 17-20, 2012, the operation went smoothly without any losses, unlike the patrols of earlier years. Nonetheless, the enemy is still entrenched here. (060112)
US forces brace for heavy combat this sumer in the Sangin Valley
The Sangin Valley this summer will reflect how we can expect the overall American withdrawal from Afghanistan to go this year. The Marines will soon start withdrawing from the Helmand Province and at the same time face an enemy that is still strong and is still on the offensive in the Sangin Valley. Marines there now face small arms ambushes, grenade attics, and a plethora of hidden IEDs, just as Allied forces there have faced since at least 2006. The 1-7 Marines are there now, having arrived in April. They are expecting violence to ramp up significantly over the coming weeks. It is true that much progress has been made. The Marines have made great advances. They are aware of the progress and proud of it, but they are also aware that heavy combat is imminent. The 1-7 was attacked shortly after it arrived. They are now bracing for the worst. (051812)
Kajaki Dam area still a problem
Marines continue to hold the Kajaki Dam area but the Marines report that the area north of the dam is still enemy territory. The Marines pushed the enemy to the north back in 2012, but G Battery, 2-11 Marines has had to repel repeated attacks over the past four months. G Battery is located at FOB Zeebrugge. Sgt. Erick A. Granados, the 1st squad leader with 1st Platoon, said recently, “Now we have the main advantage. We have a [heavily] fortified position … where we can engage the enemy and have the upper hand. Any time they try to attack with a burst of machineguns, we have a lot more guns and they just don’t stand a chance. All the guys love all the firepower that we have up here. It gives us the advantage.” While this is good, the Marines will be leaving here over the months ahead and then what? US, Britih and other NATO forces have spilled a lot of blood for this territory, and to protect and upgrade this dam. (032312)
Progress at Kajaki Dam
There has been significant progress at the Kajaki Dam, which is at the northern end of the Sangin River Valley and provides hydroelectric power to residents of the valley. Two new turbines became operational in 2006 despite all the fighting, and a third is scheduled to be installed and operational by 2013. US DepSecDef Ashton Carter, shown in this photo, visited the dam on February 24, 2012. Securing this dam was a major NATO military effort in the past few years and it looks like the sacrifices made will pay off for a large segment of Helmand Province’s population. (022712)
Marines say conditions in Sangin have improved markedly
Members of the 3-7 Marines in the Sangin area say conditions have improved markedly in the Sangin District. They say the 2nd Kandak forces there have built up strong security and strong relationships with the community to keep the area safe. The Marines were impressed by the ANA forces there and the work they have done, and say the Kandak troops have welcomed them with open arms. (022212)
Cause for optimism in Sangin
Afghan National Army (ANA) Lt. Col. Hazbullah, the commanding officer of 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, said recently, “In the past, the situation of Sangin district was unacceptable to the people of Sangin … In the area of five kilometers away, our security forces did not have access; the area was under the threat of the enemy. By the cooperation of Afghan units, there is [now] security and there is a peaceful situation.” Slowly but surely the ANA has been taking greater security responsibility from the 2nd Marine Division (Forward). The Marines are taking on a greater advisory role. Hazbullah added, “Over the past five months, the situation in Sangin district is improving … We are moving toward development. Today we have been able to gain the trust of the public. The people are confident that [security forces] are able to defend the property and honor of the people. The confidence and trust of the people is a result of the achievement of the security forces here.” While these assessments are interesting, be cautious. As recently as december 2011 US 1-6 Marines fought their way across the Helmand River into Kajaki Sofia, north of Sangin. Marines in the fight said they were surprised by how “kinetic” it got. (013112)
The Marines are still pushing in Sangin.
One things the enemy knows. The Marines keep coming. The 3-7 Marines came in to replace the 1-5 in late September - early October 2011. They had been in Afghanistan’s Sangin in 2010, the first to take control of Sangin from the British. They are back.The 1-6 Marines was there with them, functioning as a maneuver unit in the Sangin area to help out. The 1-6 had also been operating in Afghanistan during the previous year, focused on Marjah.
Overall, according to Toolan, the Marines had calmed things down in southern Helmand and were now concentrating even more forces on the northern sector and the Sangin area. Part of the 1-6 for example was to go to Marjah, but instead the Marines sent the whole battalion to the Sangin area. That left the 3-6 to handle Marjah on their own.
Toolan commented on the 1-6:
“(Marines with 1/6 are) reinforcing our activities in northern Sangin and in areas further north ... (It) is actually a maneuver element that we will continue to use to put the pressure on the insurgents. The battalion is not located anywhere specific right now. They’re pretty much a free maneuver element.”
The Marines have brought in tanks and a reconnaissance battalion. Forces from the nation of Georgia have set up shop between Sangin and Musa Qala.
As we leave this story, it’s October 27, 2011, and Marine forces are pushing into northeast Helmand to conduct an assault in the area around the Kajaki dam, yet again, this time “Operation Eastern Storm.” More than 2,000 Allied soldiers are involved. ONce again, General Toolan:
“(The Kajaki Dam offensive) closes the lid on central Helmand. It will be one of the last areas that we need to clear in the Helmand province ... Insurgents have hidden explosives on either side of the Helmand River to slow the coalition advance, but the bombs have been cleared and there are indications they are using low-quality explosives. We could tell they were having problems. We’re putting the squeeze on them.”
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is planning a $266 million project to add a third turbine to the dam, increasing power production for southern Afghanistan. However, as has long been the case, there remains a heavy enemy presence in the area seeking to disrupt that effort. This project on October 2011 was described as stalled and facing extraordinary challenges. The Global Post said this:
“(The) project that has come to symbolize how the U.S. has its hands tied in Afghanistan with projects that are too ambitious in areas where the military can not provide security. Some critics say there is also insufficient auditing and oversight of projects on this scale, and that they often fall prey to corruption. To anyone who lives near the dam or officials who have traveled there, it is clear the Taliban is in control of Kajaki.”
So I close on an inconclusive note. Has the US gained the upper hand, or does the enemy remain in control?
We will continue keeping our eye on this area and update this report as we can. (110711)
January 25, 2012: ISAF has released figures that show the Taliban has increased its attacks in southern and eastern Afghanistan, up 19 percent in the east, and six percent in the south. Attacks in these regions account for two-thirds of enemy attacks across the country. This despite intensive NATO operations in these areas and significant casualties.
HMLA-369 ready to go
January 5, 2012: God bless our Marines, but it sounds like a broken CVD that has been playing since at least 2006. The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) (Forward) has shifted its support to the Sangin District. Major General Glenn M. Walters, the 2 MAW (Fwd) commander, said, “It really hasn’t changed from the summer,” said Walters. “We conduct operations during the wintertime to keep the enemy off-balance. That requires aviation support, both for our conventional forces and our special operating forces. We haven’t seen too much of a let up. We’ve been flying just as much during the wintertime as we did during the summertime … We pushed up to Kajaki, there’s no secret about that. All that happened during the winter months. So we’re still taking the fight to the enemy and that’s the best way to disrupt and keep the insurgency off balance.”
January 4, 2012: SSgt Jay Mullen, USMC, 3rd Recon, took a 156-vehicle convoy from Kabul to Sangin on a 14-day trip with the ANA’s 215 Brigade 4th Kandak, troops he had trained, and encountered numerous ambushes. The Taliban is still present and still considers it very important to stop such convoys form reaching Sangin. They encountered a serious firefight close to Sangin in which four of his Kandak troops were killed, but they drove off the enemy. Mullen claims that the Taliban for all purposes has been driven out of the valley, that in the old days the convoy might not have made it.
December 7, 2011: An enemy mine killed 19 people, including seven women and five children, while riding on a minibus in the Sangin District. Five more were injured and are being treated at a nearby NATO hospital. They were traveling from Lashkar Gah to Sangin.
December 7, 2011: Major efforts are underway to secure Route 611 paralleling the Helmand River through the Sangin Valley. Combat Logistics Company 6, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Forward) is establishing new outposts along Route 611 to help ground forces secure the route. After years and years of fighting, Route 611 remains unsecured. It is hoped these efforts will bring that to a final end.
December 3, 2011: Some 600 Marines along with ANA and ANP forces have been swarming over the Sangin Valley to solidify control over the Kajaki dam. The Marines and Afghans have established numerous bases in the area, whereas prior to that they had only one, FOB Zeebrugge. The Christian Science Monitor reported on December 3, 2011 that the Marines have met with greater success than they expected. As reported earlier, the 1-6 Marines have been leading the charge. Major General Toolan, USMC, the overall Marine commander in Afghanistan, has reaffirmed, "From my perspective, it's the last piece of real estate that ISAF forces are going to really clear.” The Marines experienced about two days of heavy fighting and lost two KIA, and then they said the valley “went quiet.” While this is encouraging, the Marines will be leaving Afghanistan in significant numbers over the months ahead and the question remains as to whether the Afghans can hold on. This could easily be a tactical, even a strategic withdrawal by the Taliban who will regroup, reequip and come back after the Marines are gone. They’ve done this before. Time will tell.
November 28, 2011: Cpl. Zachary C. Reiff, USMC, 3-7 Marines, died on November 28, 2011 in hospital in Germany after being wounded by an IED in the Sangin district, Afghanistan on November 18, 2011. He had served in Sangin once before, beginning March 2010, and was injured by an IED on July 21, 2010, but recovered, was rehabilitated, and volunteered for another deployment.
November 26, 2011: The 3rd Recon Battalion Marines, RCT 8, 2nd MARDIV have been fighting for the past five months to secure their portion of Route 611 running parallel to the Helmand River through the Sangin valley. The fighting has been intense. Enemy forces have ben using 30 mm grenade launchers attached to their AK-47s, and have been firing them indiscriminately in an effort to locate where the Marines are, hoping they will return fire. In such cases, the Marines have been reevaluating whether to return fire or focus on from where the hostile fire is coming, maneuver into position, and then attempt to destroy the source of the hostile fire. We started our examination of the Sangin valley in 2006, and security for Route 611 remains an issue.
November 18, 2011: LCpl Joshua Corral, 19, assigned to the 3-7 Marines, died of wounds received in the Sangin area.
Marine bulldozer lays dirt along Route 611 near Kajaki dam. 110311
November 15, 2011: The region around the Kajaki dam seems to be the last enemy stronghold in Helmand Province. The 1-6 Marines is operating there now and working to clear Route 611. The 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group (Fwd) is working to repair the road and build multiple observation posts along the way. The 1-6 Marines now hold the entire route from FOB Alcatraz to the dam. An effort is underway to install and operate a third turbine.
I should give you just a taste of clearing Route 611 can entail.
The Marine 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Fwd), clear Route 611 during Operation Outlaw Wrath, December 4, 2010. Presented buy I MEF Headquarters Group
The price of sacrifice in the Sangin Valley