The British military officially handed the reins to the area of Sangin in Afghanistan to U.S. troops yesterday after four years of occupation. According to the Telegraph, this move by British forces is being explained by NATO and British officials as a “tactical realignment” of their forces, but others worry that the tide in Afghanistan is turning toward abandonment. The withdrawal of British troops from Sangin is considered highly symbolic, following on the heels of their withdrawal from Kajaki and Musa Qala earlier this year as well.
The Dutch government already pulled all their remaining troops from Afghanistan last month, citing heavy losses and high public demand for the decision. The Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Balkenende, and NATO leader Anders Rasmussen had requested an extension of the Dutch deployment in a more limited training capacity, but it was quickly denied in a shake-up of the Dutch government that, according to The Times, will likely result in a change of leadership in the country in the coming months.
Dutch withdrawal led to fears of a domino effect among other countries with smaller forces in Afghanistan, a fear that was given root when Australia publicly declared it would not take over the territory abandoned by the Dutch. France refused to send more troops to the area shortly thereafter, and Germany is waging a huge internal conflict over how to proceed as well.
The tenuous position of so many of the smaller forces on the ground in Afghanistan has led to fears of destabilization in areas that had shown some small improvements in safety. The Dutch forces in the Uruzgan province had won high marks from both NATO leaders and people in the region for their effectiveness in subduing Taliban forces and influence there. Likewise, although the area has been responsible for almost a third of all losses amongst the British forces, according to Defense Secretary Dr. Liam Fox, the British should be “very proud” of their efforts to stabilize Sangin.
The U.S. forces are the largest in Afghanistan, and have assumed responsibility over Sangin, Musa Qala, Kajaki, and other areas vacated by allies over the last few months. Pressure from government officials and the public has led to heated discussion over an American timeline to leave Afghanistan as well. But with the smaller forces led by our allies already seemingly abandoning portions, if not all, of the conflict, it makes our eventual withdrawal more difficult and Afghanistan’s stability more tenuous.
Kim Sengupta, “Sangin: A quiet end to a mission of unimaginable violence.” Independent.co.uk
Ben Farmer, “British troops hand over Sangin in Afghanistan to US forces.” Telegraph.co.uk
David Charter and Tom Coghlan, “Dutch confirm Afghan troop pullout sparking fears of domino effect.” TimesOnline.co.uk
BBCNews.co.uk “Dutch troops end Afghanistan deployment.”
Tom Coghlan, “British troops to hand over Musa Qala to Americans.” TimesOnline.co.uk