Maj. Gen. John Toolan spoke from Afghanistan with reporters at the Pentagon yesterday, sharing some positive news from the volatile Sangin district.
I wasn’t able to attend the briefing due to another interview at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., but the transcript shows that Toolan gave the brief after sitting down with a Taliban commander earlier in the day. The commander agreed to reintegrate 30 of his fighters within a few days, and up to 300 by the end of October, Toolan said.
“Now he did this because he understands that at this stage in Helmand province, he sees the writing on the wall,” Toolan said. “He understands that we’re making progress. He understands, for example, that in Sangin today, there is very, very little violence. And when you compare it with six months, five months, a year ago, he realizes that now is the time. And that actually has become sort of the motto, is that now’s the time, Taliban, to come back and join the government.”
Toolan added that Marine forces have launched “major offensive operations” to assume control of the Kajaki region, which is to Sangin’s north. It’s part of a long-term effort to re-establish the Kajaki Dam and conduct construction projects that are needed at the hydroelectric facility.
The dam is considered central to the Marines’ counterinsurgency efforts in northern Helmand, Toolan told me last month. The U.S. will spend about $750 million on improvements to irrigation and the facility’s power output, Toolan said. It is protected by Echo Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, an artillery unit out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii that has some Marines patrolling 4,000 feet above sea level.
“There’s nothing better than having a living, breathing symbol of Afghan sovereignty, than to have a dam that is no longer being used by the insurgents to collect illegal taxes and revenues,” the general said. “It’s now a piece of infrastructure that the government owns, the government controls and – oh, by the way – is being improved by our projects.”
I hope that the Taliban’s willingness to reintergrate their forces is for the reasons stated ! I hope that they are truly sincere in these desires. The successes in Afghanistan and in particular Sangin have been at a very high cost in lives and limbs of Marines and other coalition partners stationed there over the past 10 years, not to mention the lives of innocents who have been victimized as well. I hope that the Taliban have earned the trust necessary to make this possible by deeds not just words. I am cautiously optimistic! Let’s hope this leads to a peaceful solution and end to this war.
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Let’s hope this is not rose colored lenses again (see SSA and any true assessment thereof). It’s interesting how each of the Taliban commanders continues to reintegrate around the fall… right before the winter and at the conclusion of each fighting season. I wonder how much compensation will be offered and whether any true vetting will before and after reintegration ceremonies occur. I hope there is equal interest in seeing where this stands next spring when the weather warms, poppy returns, and fewer Devil Dogs are on the ground.