Resolute Support spins loss of Sangin district center as a victory

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’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.

13 Comments

  • baldurdasche says:

    The next rebuilding will be an even greater triumph for democracy than the last one – 8 years ago. But be of these years the rebuilding will stop and Afghanistan will be at peace … like its dead.

  • Chris Green says:

    So why defend static positions? Have we no ability to win a battle via maneuver?

  • Richard Loewe says:

    it is mind-boggling that there are still Western forces in Afghanistan. Everybody knows how Afghanistan will end. I hope Trumps makes the only right decision and soon.

    When I hear this rubbish about devaluing the sacrifices made by our troops by pulling out, I get really angry. The argument seems to be that we need to lose more troops to value the loss of those already maimed, wounded and dead. That is a decision made by generals who really don’t give a rat’s ass about their men. How many generals died in Afghanistan?

    • waveshaper1 says:

      “How many generals died in Afghanistan?” Only one that I’m aware of. Excerpt-Harold Joseph “Harry” Greene (February 11, 1959 – August 5, 2014) was a United States Army general who was killed during the War in Afghanistan. At the time of his death, he was deputy commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan.

      At the rank of major general, Greene was the highest-ranking American service member killed by hostile action since Lieutenant General Timothy J. Maude was killed in the September 11 attacks, and the highest-ranking service member killed on foreign soil during a war since Rear Admiral Rembrandt Cecil Robinson was killed during the Vietnam War in May 1972. To date, Greene is also the highest ranking American officer to be killed in combat in the ongoing Global War on Terrorism.

    • Morgan says:

      One US general so far.

    • James says:

      Richard, that’s the knee-jerk response, “blame the generals.” The generals have to deal with the hand that has been dealt to them. In the case of Afghanistan, the potential of a global nightmare developing as a direct result of our pulling out prematurely is very real. This is exactly what happened with Syria/Iraq. Just imagine, if ISIS (or AQ) could get their hands on (at least some of) Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Or, just imagine, if ISIS were to gain control of at least a significant part of Afghanistan’s opium (heroine) production. The potential for a nightmare developing even worse than what has happened in Syria/Iraq would prove to be a distinct possibility.

  • Carol Grayson says:

    Resolute Liars…. but nothing new in that… and cowards as they block those on social media that challenge their statements! Just face it, US is losing the battle, time to leave!

    • James says:

      Yeah right. Let’s make the same mistake we made in Iraq and ‘cut and run’ like chicken dung. What a nightmare (Iraq/Syria) for civilization that has turned out to be. Can you imagine if ISIS were to gain control of Afghanistan’s heroine trade what would happen? The junkies-turned-prostitutes-turned-jihadists-turned suicide bombers would proliferate exponentially. It would present a real potential of becoming even a worse nightmare that what is going on in Iraq/Syria right now. And that’s not to mention Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal right next door.
      No folks, we need to be in this thing for the long haul. Like the Cold War. We’ve had troops in South Korea, Germany, and Great Britain for well over 50 years now. We can maintain a sizable presence in Afghanistan; at least into the foreseeable future. It won’t break the bank. If it takes US a thousand years to succeed in Afghanistan, well then so be it.

      • irebukeu says:

        Somehow you equate troops in great Britain as the same as troops in Afghanistan.?? I just love when this is done. It shows either a willingness to trick people into the false belief that a troop here is the same as a troop anywhere (meaning there is no danger) or just a total lack of understanding of what the differences are between great Britain and Afghanistan for American troops. Can there be a third possible explanation?
        I don’t know what would justify 50 years of occupation in Afghanistan. If we did do the “James” 50 year plan however, I know how the 50th years commitment will be justified. They will say that 49 years of dead Americans and the 49 trillion spent so far would be wasted if we cut and run like ‘chicken dung’.
        If you called for the use of nuclear weapons in the swamps of ar Raqqa (you did), then why not for the high mountain villages in the Kunar mountains on a people who claim to have never been conquered? As for 1000 years of occupation- how does one express the number for 1000 trillions of dollars?
        At an average of 149 deaths and 1253 wounded for every year in Afghanistan just in the actual US Military, not counting Afghans, allies or civilians, that is a staggering 149,000 dead Americans and over 1.25 million wounded over 1000 years.
        Your 1000 year plan James, IMO, should be rolled up and placed in a desert daisy and left to “grow”. Leave that mousetrap to the Persians.

    • Rog Antolik says:

      Amend:
      1. Lost the battle.
      2. Time to leave was long ago.

  • irebukeu says:

    I wonder how many more victories like this the Afghans can sustain?
    I love how “resolute support” uses its words to deny the people the view of reality that actually exists.
    Whats worse is that they would use the position of “argument from authority” to make a liar of anyone that would dare tell the truth.

    Interesting that they claim to control the town and be two kilometers from it. Pretty good one.

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    NATO also believes Erdogan’s Turkey is an ally. NATO HQ has become a giant hash den.

  • Rosario says:

    Bill, this is a very disturbing post. Are you aware of any change in Afghanistan policy or strategy since the beginning of this year by the US government? I have not noted any.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis