6 years ago
Michael Yon authored a prescient article on Sangin entitled Bad Medicine, in which Yon was embedded with the British Army in Sangin. It’s worth studying this piece again in preparation for an important report from the BBC. Since the BBC doesn’t give embed code, it’s good that this piece is out on YouTube. Thanks to Michael Yon for bringing this to our attention. It’s well worth the twenty nine minutes you will spend watching this report.
The British enlisted men have fought bravely in Sangin and lost many men there. But more than two years ago the British announced a plan to deescalate the violence against the Taliban. There is little doubt that this plan dovetailed with the abandonment of the forward operating bases in and around Sangin. Also in the Helmand Province, the British forces allied themselves with a shyster and con man named Mullah Abdul Salaam in Musa Qala. He and his forces were supposed to go to arms against local Taliban when the fight for Musa Qala began by British and U.S. forces, and instead they screamed like little girls and ran for cover, making frantic calls for help to Karzai.
In fact, even recently the U.S. Marines and British Advisers have been at odds about how to approach the Helmand Province. The U.S. Marines are intentionally taking a more aggressive approach in Sangin than the British, and their casualties show it.
Yon sent me a note praising the hard work of the Marines, but lamenting the fact that we’re taking the same soil twice, and paying dearly for it. Yon is right, but this isn’t the only sacred soil stained by the blood of U.S. Marines that is being taken more than once.
Two years and eight months ago, the 24th MEU Marines went into Garmsir. At great cost, the Marines killed some 400 Taliban fighters in and around Garmsir. But the 24th MEU had to leave, and they turned over to the British. One and a half years ago I was writing about the resistance a new deployment of Marines was finding in Garmsir.
This report is remarkable in that it could have been written exactly one year ago during the tenure of the 24th MEU in the Garmsir District in 2008. During that operation, the U.S. Marine Corps had taken over from the British who were not able to force the Taliban out of Garmsir, and after a major gun battle took over the Garmsir area from the Taliban. The primary concern of the residents during this operation was that the Marines would leave, allowing the Taliban to re-enter the district and punish those who had cooperated with the Marines.
The Marines turned operations back over to the British, who were then unable to maintain control of the Garmsir District, and now the U.S. Marines are back again in Helmand generally and Garmsir particularly. It’s not that the British are unable to fight, but rather that they aren’t supplied well enough, equipped well enough or provided with enough troops (we might add that their officer corps seems mostly to be sidetracked and confused with a version of counterinsurgency doctrine taken from their experience in Northern Ireland).
In fact, the U.S. Marines are finding Taliban resistance even today in Garmsir. So the hand-offs between forces go a long way back in the Helmand Province, and while there is no lack of bravery on the part of any of the forces who have had responsibility for Helmand, there is a difference in approach and continuity. This has caused a sad state of affairs, with the spilling of blood and losing of limbs to take the same soil more than once.
This soil is now sacred to us, made so my the blood of the sons of America. Tim Lynch has written me saying that he has seen first hand the progress the Marines are making in Helmand. Tim says something that we have said before and with which we can all agree.
I tell you what. The Marines down south are making nice gains against the Taliban. They find them and kill them. These types of gains are not “reversible”. Might I suggest something crazy? Let’s emulate the marines on all levels of the playing field metaphorically of course. If someone shoots at us lets hunt them down and deal with them. Here is some more valuable ground truth, “Afghans respect strength”. We might have to wait two more years to implement this one.
Does this sound like Follow and Kill Every Single Taliban? Yes, Tim is right, but here is my concern. Recall the warning from the elder in Sangin near the end of the report above? What did he say would happen when the Marines leave? That’s right. The Taliban would return.
Those who haven’t been killed will return. If we play whack-a-mole counterinsurgency and merely squeeze them from one location to another, one safe haven to the next, we haven’t accomplished anything. In Sangin and Garmsir, the Taliban returned. The resistance we see today proves my point. There is no debate, and the point cannot even be contended. It simply must be accepted as axiomatic in this fight.
Thus I have advocated saturation of Marines (more troops) and chasing the enemy. To fail to do so doesn’t just facilitate failure. It desecrates what is now sacred soil.
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