LASHKARGAH/KABUL - In what was billed as a tactical realignment of foreign troops, British forces officially transferred the security responsibility to US marines in the Sangin district of southern Helmand province, NATO said on Monday.
Abdul Ghafaar comforts his 7 year old nephew at a hospital in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. Saturday July 24, 2010. Ghafaar said he brought seven children to the city's hospital after getting caught in crossfire Friday between NATO and Taliban forces in Sangin, a flash-point town in neighboring Helmand province. (Photo: AP)
The rebalancing of International Security Assistance Force troops in the lawless province was ascribed to a surge in US marines, allowing the UK servicemembers to be reinvested throughout central Helmand.
Afghan forces in the Taliban-infested district have been working alongside their British and American partners in recent months, boosting the writ of the Afghan government, the alliance said in a statement.
It will be instructive to recall that Royal Marines, arriving in Sangin in 2006, have partnered with their Afghan counterparts to provide security, allowing governance and economic development to take root.
The district chief, Muhammad Sharif, was quoted as saying: "The attitude, service and sacrifice paid by the Royal Marines has been exemplary and has set a very good example for the people of Sangin."
US Marine Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills, commander of the Regional Command Southwest, praised the British troops, saying: "U.K. forces have carved out a solid security bubble that we are moving US forces into."
Meanwhile, residents hailed the pullout of UK troops, saying they had failed to maintain security in the restive district. A war-displaced man said all areas of Sangin had been under government control four years ago.
Nazar Muhammad, who recently shifted to the provincial capital, Lashkargah, told Pajhwok Afghan News several localities had fallen to the insurgents with the passage of time. The government's writ had gradually shrunken, he claimed.
A resident of the Sangin Bazaar area, characterised the UK withdrawal as a positive omen. Mullah Lali said the troops had checkpoints in the district centre and adjoining neighbourhoods, with large swathes staying under Taliban's rule.
The UK, having nearly 10,000 soldiers in Helmand under NATO command, has lost 337 servicemembers, 106 in Sangin, since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001.
In London, Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said forces should be proud of the achievements they had made in one of the most challenging areas of Afghanistan.
"The level of sacrifice has been high and we should never forget the many brave troops who have lost their lives in the pursuit of success in an international mission rooted firmly in our own national security in the UK," he added.