Thursday, 19 August 2010

"Bases in Sangin that were built with blood are destroyed with regret" (Story in The [London] Times)

There's a tragic story in today's Times. And it's accompanied by an equally tragic picture. Here is the tragic picture, followed by the tragic story.

"Seven bases in Sangin, many named after fallen comrades, will be destroyed.

In recent British military history few places have cost more in blood, sweat and lives to defend. Now most of the small bases around Sangin that exacted such a high toll to build and hold are being destroyed, blown up and bulldozed not by the Taleban, but by British engineers and their American allies.

The decision by US commanders to abandon many of the patrol bases (PBs) around the town where British soldiers have taken their heaviest casualties of the Afghan war has provoked deep frustration among British troops still serving there.

So far this month two small patrol bases, previously known as Pritchard’s Post and Marshall’s Post, have been abandoned and destroyed in the run-up to the handover of Sangin to the Americans.

One was named after Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard of the Military Police, who died in December, the other after Rifleman Mark Marshall, a popular reservist who was killed by a roadside bomb in February.

More bases will follow: US forces are to occupy fewer than half of those held by British troops when they take control of the area this autumn.

More than 50 British soldiers have died in Sangin since last summer and about 200 have been injured as they fought to hold and then expand their control in and around the disputed town, building more than a dozen small bases under fire, including the notorious Patrol Base Wishtan.

A non-commissioned officer told The Times: “The Americans are leaving all the ground that lads gave their lives for. It’s honking.

“Handing over to the Americans is not what is troubling them. They are annoyed because they had to hold this ground on the bones of their a***. In these PBs it is phenomenal how guys have been surviving. But it is hard to endure, knowing at the end you hand it to the US and the base is going to be blown up.”

The issue was raised independently by Marines whom The Times encountered in different bases in Sangin. “The lads are looking at what is happening at the PBs and wondering what was the point,” one said. “It seems a great shame after the Rifles [Battle Group] gave their all and the Marines have taken a lot of casualties.”

An officer said that the frustration of his men was understandable, although they understood that there was a “bigger picture”. He added that 3 Rifles, who built most of the bases, had endured an horrific time doing so. “It was an amazing effort to build the patrol bases,” he said.

When British forces hand over the area in the autumn, US forces will occupy six bases. Seven outlying bases are to be destroyed. Afghan forces will retain some bases that were previously jointly held with British troops inside the town.

Last month the names of bases in the town, many of them honouring fallen British soldiers, were renamed with Afghan titles.

Tribal elders said that, although the centre of Sangin was now solidly held by the Government and Western troops, Taleban fighters remained in disputed terrain around the outlying bases that British forces had abandoned in recent days.

Lieutenant-Colonel Paul James, commander of 40 Commando Royal Marines, said that the withdrawal was a tactical move made possible by security improvements in Sangin won by the Rifles and their successors in the Marines.

“Actually giving up ground because you think it is safe and secure enough to move on — that is what success is defined as. I would not be in this position now if those bases had not been created,” he said.

Colonel James said that there had been a substantial and sustained drop in violence recently around Sangin and that fewer bases would allow troops to adopt a more “agile patrol posture”. He acknowledged, however, that there might be frustration among British troops who had fought and lost comrades for the bases.

“I would be surprised if there wasn’t some form of attachment to what guys have achieved in their area,” he said.

“Every battle group that has been here has, unfortunately, lost soldiers and Marines. But I wouldn’t necessarily see that as any reason to stay here. Holding ground isn’t progress.”

I have commented on-line as follows:

"The lads are looking at what is happening at the PBs and wondering what was the point"

There is no point. We went there to assist the Americans to 'smoke out' Osama bin Laden. He's done a bunk. Perhaps I'm too cynical, but isn't this all part of what used to be called 'the great game'? It would be funny were it no so futile. Our brave boys have been sacrificed for no gain, nothing for us, nothing for the Afghans, who prefer their own version of 'civilisation.' Let's get out now and leave 'em to it. It's not our business. Our streets are no safer. Their country is as big a mess as when the Soviets were there and when we armed and supported the Mujaheddin that turned into the Taleban.

And we can't afford the cost in any case."

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