Julius Cavendish: It may not be safe yet, but progress was made thanks to aggressive US tactics

View from Sangin: A tentative peace accord struck at the start of the year is holding, at least to the extent that it still exists

Share
Related Topics

Seven months ago 500lb bombs were tearing into Taliban positions outside Sangin district centre in Helmand province as the US Marines here launched an aggressive and costly campaign against Taliban insurgents. What was already Afghanistan's bloodiest district for foreign troops quickly became more so.

The infusion of troops, including US Marines, was part of President Obama's surge and despite widespread suspicion of Nato's spin, it genuinely seems that their arrival had an impact, especially in Helmand and neighbouring Kandahar – although neither province is yet safe, nor going to be in the immediate future. The Taliban matched Obama's surge with their own escalation, knowing full well that tactical defeats matter little, provided they can simply hang-on under the drawdown.

But the gun battles and roadside blasts that once took place in Sangin's heart have migrated to its fringes – and it's hard to see that as anything but a vindication of the Marines' aggressive tactics. Yesterday there was barely a single explosion within earshot of the Marines' main base.

That's not because the fighting's over. First Battalion Fifth Marines have been taking heavy casualties and they're angry and hurting.

There's a daily traffic of dead and wounded to battalion medics, and there are gut-wrenching stories of self-sacrifice, bad luck and suffering. Some say the level of violence in parts of Sangin compares unfavourably with darker episodes from the Iraq war. All of this, though, is happening away from the population hub deemed crucial in counter-insurgency doctrine.

In some eyes that's a definite achievement. "People are not happy with the district chief and the police, but people are very happy with the Afghan National Army and the American Marine group," one local elder says, unprompted, by phone.

"If the American Marines leave Sangin district, then it will be like before, when the British were here, and the Taliban will capture most of the district. Without the American Marines, I don't think any foreign troops could bring the same security."

At the same time as the Marines have pushed deep into what was until recently uncontested Taliban territory, a tentative peace accord struck at the start of the year is holding, at least to the extent that it still exists, however shakily. That's important because even the Marines recognise their firepower may indeed be overwhelming, but can never be conclusive.

There's a poignancy to the fact that, just as headway is finally being made in one of Afghanistan's most notoriously difficult districts, the benchmarks have moved and that's no longer enough.

Instead, the Marines are in a race against time to train up Afghan security forces and establish political pacts that are strong enough to weather Taliban counter-punching. The sooner they're in place, the less bloodshed there will have to be.

Few will be sad to leave. "Most Marines are Republicans," says one officer. "But [even] they think it's enough. Time to hand over to the Afghan police and Army.

"They're a rough bunch of guys," he says, trailing off. But they'll have to do.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried