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The transfer of authority, first announced by the Defence Secretary in July this year, is the last move in the current rebalancing of ISAF forces across Helmand. It follows an increase in ISAF and Afghan security forces in Helmand over recent months and will ensure an equal distribution of ISAF forces amongst the Afghan population living there.
Handing over Sangin will allow UK forces to focus their effort in central Helmand where they will continue to deliver effective counter-insurgency operations, working alongside the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
British forces have been in Sangin, a key economic and transport hub, since 2006. Alongside the ANSF, they have provided vital security for the local population on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan, enabling development and preventing the insurgency from using Sangin as a base from which to mount attacks across Helmand.
40 Commando Royal Marines, currently deployed with 4th Mechanized Brigade, have handed over to the US Marine Corps (USMC).
Defence Secretary Dr 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 handover of Sangin by UK forces represents sound military rationale and reflects the increase of both ISAF and Afghan forces across Helmand over the course of the past year.
British troops will redeploy to central Helmand in support of ISAF’s main effort, where they will continue to lead the fight against the insurgency and assist in building a stable and secure Afghanistan that can stand on its own two feet.
Major General Gordon Messenger, the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer, said:
British troops redeploying from Sangin are handing over a strong, forward-looking operation which has, over the last four years, ensured that the authority of the Afghan Government exists even in an area that the Taliban regard as their heartland.
Our troops operating in Sangin have been taking the fight to the Taliban and by doing so have reduced the threat of violence spreading elsewhere. The progress and momentum in central Helmand would not have been possible without their endeavour and sacrifice.
It is and will continue to be a challenging area because of its strategic importance to the Afghan Government, ISAF and the insurgency - that is why ISAF forces will remain there to build upon the progress already achieved by UK forces.
“The transfer of responsibility for Sangin to the USMC is the latest in a series of practical and sensible reconfigurations that have occurred as a result of the significant uplift in ISAF troops in Helmand over the last year.
It allows British forces, with their Danish and Estonian allies, to focus their efforts in the critical central Helmand area, building on the strong momentum that has already been achieved there.
Major General Richard Mills, Commander of Regional Command (South West), the military headquarters responsible for Helmand and Nimruz provinces, said:
UK forces have carved out a solid security bubble that we are moving US forces into. They are leaving solid professional relationships with the people and the ANSF in Sangin.
We will continue to build on the successes and continue to work with the local population and forces there.
As well as being an economic and transport hub, power lines route through Sangin, supplying power from the Kajaki hydroelectric station to central Helmand and Kandahar, and Sangin is one of the most fertile areas in Helmand. Building and maintaining security and governance in Sangin is therefore vital for the long-term stability and development of Helmand and the wider region.
Sangin has moved forward since 2006 with:
• the reform of Sangin’s district governance with a new District Governor and senior staff appointed in March 2010. The new Governor is actively working with members of the UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team and local community leaders to improve governance in Sangin and win the support of local tribal groupings, some of whom have previously supported the insurgency;
• over 850 shops trading in Sangin’s bazaar, twice as many as summer last year;
• the improvement of Route 611 from central Helmand through Sangin to Kajaki - increasing access to agricultural land and markets for local people;
• local administrators, supported by the Provincial Reconstruction Team, working to distribute grain and promote the production of legal alternatives to narcotics;
• trained Afghan medics at the new health clinic, which opened in October 2009, treating 300 patients per week - men, women and children from Sangin and its surrounding areas.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul James, Commanding Officer of 40 Commando Royal Marines, said:
It’s been a hard fight for 40 Commando Royal Marines in Sangin, but we have achieved much. We have sought to protect the local people and have worked hard to support the Afghan National Security Forces.
Our partners in the ANA and ANP [Afghan National Police] have improved tremendously. They have provided the security for the District Governor to spread the influence of the Afghan Government.
The bazaar itself, central to the economy of the area, is thriving and a much more bustling place than when we arrived with new shops opening all the time.
There is still work to do, and we are confident that our American partners will build on what we have achieved. We have lost brave Marines, but we will do them proud and return home with our heads held high.
British forces will redeploy to central Helmand where they will join their British colleagues who are operating alongside Afghan and other ISAF forces and where the UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team is carrying out major governance and socio-economic development projects.
District Governor of Sangin, Mohammad Sharif, said:
The attitude, service and sacrifice that has been paid by the Royal Marines has been exemplary and has set a very good example for the people of Sangin. As 40 Commando goes, they will be missed by the people of Sangin and they will be in our thoughts and minds forever as we will always remember their hard work and efforts.