After months of heavy fighting in Sangin, the Taliban took control of the district’s center in Helmand province last night. Yet, Resolute Support – NATO’s mission in Afghanistan – attempted to claim victory.
Resolute Support tweeted a statement which attempted to salvage the loss of Sangin’s district center:
— Resolute Support (@ResoluteSupport) March 23, 2017
Resolute Support’s statement is not credible. Let’s look at some of the statements made by Resolute Support to explain how, even with the sunniest possible spin, losing Sangin was nothing short of a disaster.
> Resolute Support says: “Fighting destroyed the infrastructure and there were no more civilians in the district center.”
What really happened: The Sangin district center has exchanged hands multiple times during heavy fighting. The Taliban has surrounded the center for months, and fought over a deserted area in order to gain a victory over rubble. Afghan forces, backed by the US military and Resolute Support, were unable to halt the Taliban’s advances and protect civilians in Sangin, so they left.
> Resolute Support says:“The new district center and ANP [Afghan National Police] HQ were repositioned just over two kilometers south.”
What really happened: The new district center had to be relocated because Afghan and coalition forces failed. Leaving the old district center wasn’t by choice. They were forced to abandon the district center. In The New York Times, Afghan government and security officials admitted the district center had “fallen,” and not relocated as Resolute Support claims:
While spokesmen for the central government denied claims by the Taliban that the district had fallen to them, some conceded that the insurgents had overrun the district center and government facilities. But local Afghan government and military officials said there was no doubt Sangin had finally fallen to their enemy.
> Resolute Support says: “Once the move was complete, the US assisted in destroying the buildings that were no longer usable and also destroyed inoperable vehicles that were left in place so that they would not be a safety hazard.”
What really happened: This is what is known as the Ben Tre defense: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,” or more commonly quoted as “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”
Additionally, if there are no civilians in the old Sangin district center, then just to whom would those “inoperable vehicles” pose “a safety hazard?” The Taliban? More likely, the Taliban seized working vehicles and equipment, as it has claimed. Expect to see a Taliban propaganda video showing off their war prizes, as the group has flaunted numerous times in the past.
> Resolute Support says: “The ANSDF [Afghan National Security and Defense Forces] defended the district center for two months and left on their own terms.”
What really happened: They needed to be airlifted out of the district center in the middle of the night and destroyed the town on the way out the door. If they left on their own terms, they would have driven out the front gate and not left behind valuable equipment that was taken by the Taliban.
> Resolute Support says: “The only thing they left to the Taliban is rubble and dirt.”
What really happened: They also left rubble and dirt to the Afghans who owned property in the old district center, including the merchants at the bazaar.
Normally, claims by the Taliban, particularly from a victory such as this one in Sangin, can rarely be taken at face value. Facts and figures are often exaggerated to widen the margin of a win in the public eye. This time, it was Resolute Support that could not be trusted. Resolute Support’s false bravado is not only shameful, but counterproductive to the overall mision. It would have been far better for Resolute Support to sweep this loss under the rug rather than defend the indefensible. Their spin cycle only served to create a bigger mess.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.