Coalition forces in Afghanistan have beaten the insurgency in an important stronghold of Taliban fighters, though pockets of resistance remain, a U.S. commander said Monday in an interview with USA Today.
“This is really the heart of the insurgency,” Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills said of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. “I believe they have been beaten.”
Helmand is among the first targets of a surge of 30,000 U.S. forces ordered into Afghanistan by President Obama in December 2009. The first Marines associated with the surge began arriving in the province shortly afterwards.
At the time the Taliban had control over Marjah, a center of the country’s opium trafficking industry that the insurgents had used to pay for its fighters and supplies, according to the Pentagon. The Marines pushed the Taliban out of Marjah soon after and for months after moved into outlying areas, some of which saw heavy fighting.
The progress in Helmand “shows you the momentum is shifting,” said James Phillips, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation. By loosening the Taliban’s grip on the drug trade “that could have a cascading effect in the years ahead,” he said.
Other analysts say the battlefield successes must be followed by improvements in services and the economy if the Afghans who are liberated from Taliban rule are to cooperate with the Afghan government and coalition forces.
“We can hold with massive U.S. forces,” said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We haven’t shown that Afghan forces can hold.
“It’s going to be a couple of years before we know what these accomplishments mean.”
Mills said coalition forces have succeeded in disrupting the Taliban’s ability to control and resupply its insurgents in Helmand, and that militants have had to take refuge away from populated areas.
“They’ve suffered defeat after defeat on the battlefield,” Mills said.
The increased security has given the government an opportunity to win over the population. Mills said stores, schools and local businesses have been flourishing in areas that have been cleared and held by coalition and Afghan forces.
“You saw a population that turned on the Taliban,” he said.
Recently, Marines faced strong resistance in Sangin, a remaining insurgent stronghold. Mills said the city center is now relatively quiet.
“There is still a fight going on in certain outlying areas,” he said of Sangin.
“They have certainly lost the momentum they had and they have lost the support of the people within the province,” said Mills said of Helmand.
Securing the neighboring province of Kandahar, traditional homeland of the Taliban, will be critical to turning the tide in Afghanistan, analysts say.
“My impression is it’s harder to rout out the Taliban in urban areas than in rural areas where they can be more easily isolated,” Phillips said.
story by: Jim Michaels
photo courtesy of: USMC