The UK is set to urgently deploy a group of its elite SAS forces together with US special forces to assists the Afghan army after reports that the Taliban had made significant inroads into government-held territory, including the strategically important Helmand province town of Sangin.
Over the next decade, more than 100 UK marines and soldiers were killed around Sangin, in what were some of the bloodiest battles in the province. By the end of the last weekend, most of the town had fallen to the Taliban, including government buildings. The strategic importance of Sangin is its position between Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, to the province's northern districts.
Afghanistan "lower priority" than Libya & Syria — Lord Dannatt ex-British Army Chief, as UK military sent to Helmand pic.twitter.com/4TNKBvNXNQ— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) December 22, 2015
Following the invasion, the US-led coalition forces formed the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), designed to hit back against the Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents, who proved extremely strong opposition, with unique knowledge of the landscape — both socially and geographically.
After ISAF was disbanded at the end of 2014, the US and UK withdrew combat troops, but several hundred remained to support the Afghan army in maintaining stability in the region. However, according to Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations, speaking at the UN Security Council debate on Afghanistan Monday:
"This year's fighting season has shown, making security a reality for all is exceptionally tough. The Afghan security forces and all of us face an unrelenting foe in the Taliban."
Worrying to read of British troops being deployed back to Sangin. "Advisory Role" is always the term used. And it never ends up being such— Cornish Buddha (@Cornish_Buddha) December 22, 2015
The fact that the Afghan army is struggling against the Taliban has forced both the US and the UK to deploy more troops, but with no mandate for combat. Instead, they will provide strategic support — and, almost certainly, intelligence support.
On Monday, around 60 US and 30 UK special forces had joined the Afghan army as it struggled to take back key areas of the town and air strikes this week are being predicted. However, the fall of Sangin met with dismay among UK veterans.
"It is looking like all of that blood, sweat and toil could have been for nothing," Captain Doug Beattie, who earned the Military Cross during one of his three tours to Helmand told the London Times newspaper.
Afghan 'MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" said PM 13/12/2013. Now Taliban in control of Sangin won at cost of UK lives. Ministers lied; soldiers died— Paul Flynn (@PaulFlynnMP) December 22, 2015
"You have to ask yourself the question: why is it all failing? Was it all for nothing?"
#Afghanistan — untold millions of pounds wasted, 100s of young British lives sacrificed, and 1000s of civilians killed. All for nothing.— John Wight (@JohnWight1) December 22, 2015
Major Richard Streatfield, who spent seven months in Sangin between 2009 and 2010, told the BBC it was "hugely disappointing" to see the town under threat again.
"I won't deny, on a personal level, it does make you wonder — was it worth it?"