Battle Rattle

General: Taliban probing for weaknesses in Helmand security

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An Afghan National Army soldier prepares his weapon before going on a May 29 rescue mission in Sangin, Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. Bryan Peterson)

As noted here on Battle Rattle last week, the arrival of fighting season in Afghanistan this year has meant a series of attacks in Helmand province, especially in Sangin district. Fighting has been underway there for several days straight, with Taliban fighters attacking Afghan forces repeatedly.

Maj. Gen. W. Lee Miller, the top commander in southwestern Afghanistan, briefed the media from his headquarters at Camp Leatherneck yesterday (A transcript of that conversation is available here). A couple key takeaways:

Heavy fighting in Sangin is back
For much of late 2010 and 2011, the war in Sangin dominated media coverage of Afghanistan, in large part because things were so awful. More than 50 Marines died there alone, and at least 500 more were severely wounded.

Things calmed down a bit last summer, comparatively speaking. Casualties plummeted and Lt. Col. David Bradney, the battalion commander there at the time, said afterward that the Taliban “kind of limped into the fall season.”

Clearly, the Taliban want Sangin back. They’ve launched a series of attacks this month, leading to sustained fighting between Afghan forces and insurgents since May 25, Miller told reporters. Many of the insurgents came in from Baghran, a mountainous, sparsely populated district north of Kajaki, as well as from the east in Kandahar province, he added.

Attacks in other parts of Helmand
The Taliban has been active in more than just Sangin, however. Miller cited recent attacks in Musa Qala and Reg-e Khanashin districts, saying the enemy is looking for holes in security to exploit. In most cases, Afghan local police selected to defend their own villages are holding their ground, the general said.

Foreign fighters
The Taliban in Sangin has been bolstered in part by foreign fighters, Miller said. He declined to say where they came from, but it seems reasonable to assume it’s the usual suspects, particularly Pakistan.

Afghans take the lead
While the Afghan army and police have taken casualties, the top Afghan army commander in the region, Maj. Gen. Sayeed Malook, has asked only for limited help from coalition forces, leaving Marines in the advising role they shifted to last year as part the U.S. drawdown in forces, Miller said.

“I asked him specifically if he needed help with getting rearming done and some ammunition moved forward, and the answer was, quite honestly, no,” Miller said.

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