Two weeks ago, Taliban forces swept in and seized strategically important portions of Helmand Province’s Sangin District. The Afghan military sent a large force to contest it, sparking a 10-day battle which officials presented as the “first real test” for the Afghan military in fighting without direct NATO support.
Afghan officials may be rethinking this assessment today, as with the battle apparently over for now, the Taliban has fought them off and remains in control of the key territory.
Sangin is a vital transit route for Afghanistan’s lucrative opium poppy trade, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has reportedly pledged more forces and aid for the fight against the Taliban.
NATO had long held Sangin themselves, with British troops holding it for many years, replaced by US Marines in 2010, in what was supposed to be the first example of a new strategy of brief, large-scale operations to set the stage for the Afghans to secure it themselves.
That didn’t go as planned, and the Marines remained through last month. Even once they finally withdrew, as part of the planned drawdown, the Taliban was quick to return to the area.