Helmand deadliest province for NATO troops
British and American troops on Sunday withdrew from Helmand, transferring their two adjacent military bases to Afghan counterparts.
After the 9/11 attacks in New York, the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan to oust the hardline Taliban regime harbouring Al Qaeda leadership.
Initially 10,000 British troops were stationed in Helmand and they were later joined by colleagues from other NATO member states.
Though NATO-led ISAF has not officially revealed the number of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan, iCasualties.org, an independent website, puts the number of NATO soldiers killed in Helmand at 952 since 2001, the highest figures compared to other provinces.
According to the website, southern Kandahar province was the second deadliest area for foreign troops after Helmand. The province, the birthplace of the Taliban, saw 553 international soldiers falling during the 13-year-long combat mission.
In eastern Kunar province, 177 foreign troops have been killed. A large number of foreign troops have been killed in other provinces, but none got killed in central Sari Pul and Daikundi provinces.
A majority of the 952 soldiers killed in Helmand were British. The UK lost 453 soldiers to the conflict in Helmand, where thousands others British soldiers have been wounded.
Troops from the US, Denmark, Estonia and other countries had also suffered casualties in Helmand.
A resident and former colonel, Abdul Tawab, told Pajhwok Afghan News foreign troops suffered most casualties between 2007 and 2009 in northern districts of Helmand.
He said it was a time when foreign troops had been in the lead during most of operations against insurgents because Afghan forces were being trained at the time.
He said foreign troops had suffered most casualties in roadside bombings because they lacked equipment to deal with the hidden bombs.
Tawab cited foreign soldiers’ unfamiliarity with the region’s geography another reason behind casualties among them.
He said foreign troops were unable to understand war tactics of the Taliban during the initial days and as a result, they suffered casualties.
Since last year, he said, Afghan forces had taken the lead in operations, reducing casualties among foreign troops.
In response to a Pajhwok email, ISAF said it could not confirm the number of ISAF casualties in any specific district or province.
“It is widely known that Helmand province was a Taliban stronghold prior to 2007, and the fight against the Taliban in southwestern Afghanistan was costly in terms of casualties for both Coalition Forces and Afghan National Security Forces.”
However, due to the coalition’s commitment and the competence, resolve and combined skills of Afghan National Security Forces, insurgent networks have not achieved their goals in Helmand, it said.
Over the course of the past seven years, the statement said, Regional Command Southwest assisted in building the Afghan National Security Forces in southwestern Afghanistan from nearly zero in 2006 to more than 30,000 today.
The statement said ANSF in Helmand were capable, credible, and had been in the lead for security since June 2013 to include securing both rounds of the Afghan presidential elections and continually conducting complex planning across all security pillars of government.
“The transfer of bases in Helmand is recognition of ANSF readiness and demonstrated performance. As ISAF transitions to Resolute Support in 2015, the focus for NATO and its partners will be to continue training, advising, and assisting Afghan Security Forces as agreed upon in the NATO Status of Forces Agreement and US Security Defense and Cooperation Agreement. This will make ANSF stronger and more capable than ever.”
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