UK forces withdraw from Sangin

by Peter Wozniak

Responsibility for combat operations in the bitterly contested Sangin area in Helmand has been formally handed over to US forces.

The three-year deployment of British troops in Sangin, which has seen some of the bloodiest fighting of the conflict, and nearly a third of all UK casualties in the war in Afghanistan, came to a formal end today, though officials are rejecting suggestions of a defeat as American forces move in to take up the task of securing the area.

Defence secretary Liam Fox said: “British forces have served in Sangin over the last four years and should be very proud of the achievements they have 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.”

The town lies at an important strategic point in Helmand as a conduit for the opium trade, and has therefore been heavily contested by the Taleban.

Of the 336 British casualties in the war, 106 have been in Sangin.

The withdrawal is part of a planned move to replace UK troops in the area with American marines, with the British forces redeploying to central Helmand.

Major General Gordon Messenger, a spokesman for the MoD, expressed optimism about the UK’s contribution in what has been one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan for foreign forces.

“We are seeing real and positive progress in areas that only a year or so ago were in a very different state,” he told the Today programme.

The ultimate aim of NATO forces remains the full handing over of responsibility to the Afghan National Army (ANA), and the government has committed to a full withdrawal of British troops from a combat role in Afghanistan by 2015, when the date of the next general election is scheduled.