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.
Bob Shepherd is an ex-SAS soldier and bestselling author of The Circuit. His debut novel The Infidel will be published August 5th by Simon & Schuster UK. To read more posts by him, please visit www.bobshepherdauthor.com.