Have Afghan forces intentionally surrendered turf in Sangin to the Taliban?

Dec. 17, 2013 – 07:33PM   |
One team, one objective: ANSF, Marines seeks stabi

Afghan National Army medics move a wounded soldier to the casualty evacuation site for transport Nov. 19 from Forward Operating Base Nolay to Camp Bastion. Reports of Afghan forces giving the Taliban control of multiple checkpoints in Sangin are under investigation. (Cpl. Austin Long / Marine Corps)
By Andrew deGrandpre
Staff writer

U.S. and Afghan officials are investigating reports Afghan forces have given the Taliban control of multiple checkpoints in Sangin, where hundreds of Marines were wounded or killed during a difficult, years-long fight to secure one of Afghanistan’s most violent territories.

A story published this week by Khaama Press, an English-language Afghan news agency, suggests members of the Afghan National Army struck a deal with militants to turn over three checkpoints in Sangin, located in Helmand province. It credits the “unconfirmed” report to an unidentified member of Helmand’s provincial council, and notes that a government spokesman, Omar Zwak, disputed the allegation.

Reached Tuesday, a Marine Corps spokesman in Helmand, Lt. Col. Cliff W. Gilmore, told Marine Corps Times “we don’t have any indicators of a problem there right now, though both we and [the Afghan government] are working to sort any facts from the rumors.”

The ANA’s 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps, has oversight of security in Sangin, with Afghan soldiers manning security checkpoints, according to this recent Marine Corps news release from the war zone. Marines continue to advise them, but their presence is not as ubiquitous as it once was. Each brigade adviser team includes about 40 coalition troops, and includes Marines, soldiers and sailors, Gilmore said via email.

The news release, dated Dec. 5, characterizes the brigade as “governing the region successfully and working with the local police to maintain stability.” But Marines are not at every checkpoint, Gilmore noted.

“The Afghan National Security Forces are in the lead and operate independently in many places,” he said. “That’s one of the challenges for us when it comes to sorting out rumors; we don’t have eyes-on and track info flow as it comes up the Afghan chain to the ANA Brigade Headquarters.”

Afghanistan’s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As Marine Corps Times reported earlier this year, heavy fighting returned to Sangin over the summer after a period of relative calm. The top Marine general in southwestern Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. W. Lee Miller, made clear at the time that the Taliban were pushing to take back ground they lost after Marines replaced British forces there in 2010.

Sangin has experienced some of the Afghan war’s most vicious fighting. During 2010 and 2011 alone, more than 50 Marines were killed there and at least 500 suffered severe wounds. If the Khaama Press report proves accurate, it is likely to frustrate those who sacrificed greatly to wrest control of Sangin from the insurgency.