ANSF winning the fight against the Taliban in Helmand Province’s violent Sangin District
By Sgt. Bryan Peterson
| II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) | June 10, 2013
SANGIN, Afghanistan --
The Afghan National Security Forces continue to fight and suppress the Taliban in Helmand’s Sangin District to bring peace and stability to one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous districts during Operation Aoqad Se Hasht [38 Eagle].
Afghan National Army Brig. Gen. Wasea, the 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps commanding general, along with his ANSF counterparts, orchestrated and executed the operation in response to a Taliban attack on Afghan Local Police and Afghan Uniformed Police patrol bases, May 19, in the district that left six Afghan police officers dead.
Three patrol bases were deliberately abandoned during the fighting so Afghan policemen could regroup and re-supply on ammunition.
The Taliban reported fighters at strengths of close to 1,000, but that was quickly discredited by International Security Assistance Force officials to be about 150.
Major Gen. W. Lee Miller, the Regional Command (Southwest) commander, said the “Afghans handled it quite well.”
Afghan Uniformed Police, ALP, Afghan National Civil Order Police and Afghan National Police, with some units travelling from Lashkar Gah District, joined Wasea’s brigade to fight. Third Brigade contributed nearly 200 soldiers and 4th Brigade provided more than 100 soldiers
The 215th Corps’ Mobile Strike Force (MSF) travelled from Camp Shorabak, adjacent to Camp Leatherneck, to provide security along Route 611. The MSF was vital to keeping Route 611 open as they prevented the Taliban from emplacing improvised explosive devices along the route. The road is critical to operations and civilians alike as it’s one of the few paved roads in the province.
The operation, originally planned for three days, began on May 28. Though the operation is lasting longer than planned, ANSF are making significant gains. They quickly recaptured the three patrol bases and are pushing the Taliban fighters from north to south and south to north, trapping the fighters in the center of Sangin. Afghan National Security Forces are in the lead, but do have Coalition enablers, such as aerial and logistic support, if needed.
Miller has been watching the fight closely, receiving up-to-date reports from the frontlines. He said Maj. Gen. Sayeed Malook, the 215th Corps commanding general, is not asking for any support other than aerial and logistical backing.
“They’ve done this fight … pretty much by themselves,” Miller said in a Pentagon press briefing May 29. As far as the casualties are concerned, Miller noted ANSF in comparison to Coalition Forces in Sangin last year, “the number of casualties is less.”
The casualties the ANA have taken are far less than those U.S. Marines and British troops took more than three years ago in a fight for Sangin. Nearly 50 were killed and hundreds more were wounded in that fight.
Mortars are making a difference
At Patrol Base Cuba, Malook, Brig Gen. George W. Smith, the deputy commander for Security Force Assistance for RC (SW) and Col. Austin E. Renforth, the 7th Regimental Combat Team commanding officer, met with Wasea and his staff to discuss the operation.
Smith said the ANSF “are almost there,” but the fight is not over. Malook and Wasea briefed Smith about the last major areas of resistance near PB Shamsher-Do in the southern area of the green zone and near PB Tobaq in the northern area of the green zone.
The ANA generals expressed their concern about losing men to improvised explosive devices, which riddle the two areas of resistance. They talked about flanking movements, but ultimately they are relying on organic capabilities, such as mortars.
The mortar capability appears to be making a difference in the fight. At Patrol Base Shamsher-Do, 2nd Kandak’s 1st Tolai, or company, along with the AUP, is responsible for conducting clearing operations and pushing the Taliban from south to north. At one point during the fight, an AUP policeman was wounded and the tolai’s quick reaction force responded to medically evacuate him. Before they reached the soldier they were pinned down by enemy fire and took some casualties.
One of the soldiers radioed back and requested mortar fire on the enemy positions. The ANA soldiers at the PB quickly manned and fired an 82mm mortar system. The tolai’s first sergeant, an eager, respected 23-year-old soldier, fired a SPG-9, a Russian-made recoilless rifle, from a rooftop on the PB.
The Taliban, outgunned and almost out of ammunition, according to soldiers in the field, retreated west to the Helmand River for the remainder of the evening.
The next day, the ANA gained intelligence of a Taliban meeting and fired mortars, killing two Taliban leaders and wounding several others.
Maintaining civilian trust in the ANSF
Wasea has faced many challenges during the battle, but none bigger than protecting civilians.
A United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan February report stated 2,754 civilians were killed in 2012 with the insurgent groups, primarily Taliban, accounting for nearly 2,200.
In places like Sangin, where Coalition and Afghan forces have fought for the past few years, avoiding civilian deaths and injuries could be the difference in winning the people’s trust for the GIRoA.
Wasea said he feels if his men have the civilians’ trust, then the Taliban won’t be welcome in Sangin making it easier “for us to do our job.”
“Luckily, we haven’t had any civilian casualties,” said Wasea. “We have to observe the discipline of war. The enemy dresses just like the civilians out here, they dress like women but we have done a great job of not killing or wounding any civilians.”
Another strategy working for the ANSF has been keeping Route 611 secure and open. The road has become a necessity rather than a convenience for the district’s residents. Ultimately, the people want security in the area and Wasea and his men are dedicated to them.
“I’ve talked to the people here and they don’t want the Taliban,” said Wasea. “They told me the Taliban threatens the people if they side with us. We don’t do that. If the people don’t trust us, initially, we will instead show them how they can trust us through our positive actions.”