While insurgent fighting in Afghanistan typically diminishes during the winter months, this year, there has been no “offseason” for fighters in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province. The Marines’ push into northern Helmand, which began in full force in the fall of last year, has turned into one of the bloodiest expeditions undertaken in Afghanistan during the current campaign. The fight has been intense: more than twenty Marines have given their lives, though units have also succeeded in killing or capturing more than 600 militants. The district of Sangin is the key strategic battleground—the last remaining sanctum for the enemy in Helmand, one of Afghanistan’s most notorious provinces.
Sangin is situated on the eastern bank of the Helmand River, which flows from the northern district of Kajaki to the southernmost points of the province. Insurgents and narcotics traffickers have made Sangin their command and control hub since their expulsion from Marjah in early 2010. The lush dense agricultural terrain that surrounds the river on both sides provides ample cover for their activity. In this area, Marines report encountering some of the most prolific and sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) they have faced thus far during the course of regular patrols.
Yet, locals admit that the Taliban have been seriously weakened in Sangin. Historically, the Taliban have not been able to resist any serious Marine offensive in the province—often resorting to a campaign of intimidation and assassinations after they have been driven from the battlefield. According to available indicators, the Taliban are beginning to worry.
'The Taliban's Last Stand in Helmand'