Leaving Sangin

The announcement that British forces will hand over control of Sangin to American troops has stirred some very powerful emotions. Despite military and Government insistence that the move is a logical redeployment; the decision has nevertheless provoked charges that the British military failed in Sangin and is running away.

First, let’s separate the military brass from the brave soldiers doing the hard graft on the ground.  The British produce the finest soldiers in the world.   I have no doubt our forces could hang on in Sangin indefinitely, as the Paras proved in 2006 during the opening phase of Britain’s woefully undermanned and infamously underequipped deployment to Helmand.  Sadly, the number of boots on the ground was never increased sufficiently to allow British forces to dominate their area of operations; hence why they have managed to ‘hang on’ rather than turn the situation around.

If anyone has failed in Sangin it is Britain’s military and political leaders.   They never should have sent our forces to Helmand in the first place, let alone in such unrealistic numbers. As mentioned in previous posts, NATO troops aren’t fighting an insurgency in Afghanistan; they’ve taken sides in a long term civil war. The Brits never had a hope in hell of ‘winning hearts and minds’ in Sangin because the local Pashtoon population believe NATO forces and the Afghan National Army for that matter, are allied with the former warlords of the Northern Alliance – the historic enemies of the Pashtoon.  Furthermore, British troops in Sangin were also unwittingly thrust into the centre of more localized rivalries between tribes and drugs lords; a scenario which has unfortunately played out in many other areas of Afghanistan as well.

In the last few months, the British media has started analyzing the Afghan quagmire with an increasingly wary eye.  The late awakening is understandable, given that for years the FCO has been feeding journalists a steady diet of ‘good news’ stories about ‘flourishing markets’, health clinics, and school openings in Sangin.  The Pashtoon aren’t going to turn down a health clinic, even one provided by the allies of their mortal enemies.  They’ll grab the aid money with one hand…but hold a dagger in the other.

The Americans will deploy to Sangin in greater numbers than the British.  They’ll likely be better equipped and supported as well.  I doubt however that these advantages will make their mission more successful.  I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: more troops equals more causalities in Afghanistan. That’s the tragic reality of entering a conflict on one side of a civil war.

I’m over-the-moon that British forces are withdrawing from Sangin and redeploying to an area more conducive to their current force strength. There is absolutely no shame in that.  It’s a sensible move.  Of course, it would be an even better move if British forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan all together.

Published by: bobshepherdauthor

Bestselling author Bob Shepherd has spent nearly forty years operating in conflict areas around the world. A twenty year veteran of Britain’s elite 22 SAS Regiment with nearly two decades of private security work to his credit, Bob has successfully negotiated some of the most dangerous places on earth as a special forces soldier and a private citizen. Bob comments regularly on security issues and has appeared on CNN International, BBC, SKY News, and BBC Radio. He has also authored numerous articles and books including the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller The Circuit. In addition to writing and lecturing, Bob continues to advise individuals operating in hostile environments. For more of his insights on security and geopolitics visit www.bobshepherdauthor.com

Categories AfghanistanTags, , , 3 Comments

3 thoughts on “Leaving Sangin”

  1. I got back from Sangin a few weeks ago after a 3 weeks stint. Just about every soldier/marine I met hated the place. They would stay as long as told to, but they will be very happy they don’t have to go back after this tour.

  2. I spent approx 18 months in Helmand province as a contractor.Working out of the now infamous lashka gah. Arriving in early 2006 and leaving mid 2007. Prior to that Kabul for a simillar time. On arrival in location it was still predominantly an American affair and by their standards well under developed as a PRT.It had an ‘abandoned’ feel to it. The troops were nearly all hispanic but i’m prepared to believe that was coincidental. After a while the handover went through and Brit Mil took over, what was out and out obvious was the irrefutable lack of helicopters, it was a pitiful situation which effected all areas of the Op. The general rule was there were approx 5 chinooks, which means 3 due to servicing and work rate, 3 chinooks for medevacs, logistics, troop rotation, other asset movements, etc.3 Troop carrying work horses for a TAOR the size of wales. It was a disgrace. There were lynx but they could not cope with the environment. Further to that the other issue was a lack of fixed wing assets,effecting the growing location that was bastion and the established location that was khandahar.It had a negative effect on getting troops out for leave too. The yanks would often refer to the Brit Mil as the ‘borrowers’, after the children’s book. I suppose thats better than what they called us in Iraq: The Mice. Says it all. My loyalty is to the British Army, always will be but i have accepted now that the whole thing was a badly thought out mistake. Paid for by troops. However if your going to turn up to a fight in a landlocked central asian failed state with a topographical environment that is is simillar to the earth’s moon it might be an idea to bring a realistic amount of rotary and fixed wing aircraft.Oh and the right air to surface missiles for our Apaches plus link ammo with functioning percussion caps for our infantry in the so called ‘platoon houses’ Our troops deserve better.

  3. Re the words “The British produce the finest soldiers in the world” I don’t doubt for a minute they are great soldiers but our Aussie SAS and others would give them more than a run for their money

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