Two news stories published in the last 24 hours include new revelations about the battle in Sangin, Afghanistan, where Marines remain in hotly contested combat.
First, the BBC reports that the Taliban kidnapped and beat an Afghan village elder who helped broker the widely reported peace agreement between Marines and the Alikozai tribe, which spans multiple villages in Sangin district. Sayed Badar Agha was beaten after leading a group of 40 elders in negotiations that concluded with seven tribal elders signing the agreement, the BBC said.
The BBC also reports that Taliban kingpen Mullah Omar reportedly ordered the killing of all those involved in such talks, suggesting a rift may have been opened between local fighters and the so-called “capital-T” Taliban. The agreement called for the tribe to stop attacks on Marines and help U.S. forces push foreign fighters — typically, the best trained insurgents Marines face — out of the upper Sangin Valley.
On the upside, the Washington Post outlined new details about how the agreement was reached in a story this morning. Apparently, the tribe was heavily convinced to cooperate with Marines after an unnamed reconnaissance battalion — The “Black Diamonds” of 1st Recon, no doubt — roughed their fighters up in a massive October assault.
The dynamics changed when the Marines replaced British forces in summer 2010. They increased the tempo of offensive operations and struck back harder at the all of the insurgents, including the Alikozai. In mid-October, a Marine reconnaissance battalion swooped into the Alikozai area and conducted a blistering barrage of attacks that commanders estimate killed more than 250 insurgents.
“That convinced the elders,” said one senior Marine officer involved in the operation. “They began to see the handwriting on the wall.”
The story also says that the Alikozai rose up against another tribe, the Alizai, as far back as 2007 and sought to evict foreign Taliban fighters, but the tribe’s request for help from British forces were refused “because of concern about getting involved in what appeared to be a tribal dispute.” The Alizai eventually killed several Alikozai tribal leaders, forcing other Alikozai tribal leaders to join forces with the Taliban, the Post reports.
So, to recap: Things still aren’t easy in Sangin, but this agreement was reached in large part because of 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, and 1st Recon forcing the issue during the last few months. Now, let’s just hope the truce holds.