The US Apache attack helicopter crashed inflight after refueling during a several-hour firefight against the Taliban in Afghanistan's Zhari district on August 20. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
An Afghan soldier and US civilian also injured.
This has been the deadliest year for NATO in the nine-year war. With Tuesday's crash, the alliance lost 529 troops, compared with 521 in 2009. The south is the most active battle front of the Afghan War and Sangin in the Helmand Province, which US Royal Marines handed over to US commandos Monday, Sept. 20, the most dangerous. They lost 107 men there in four years – the last on Saturday – almost one third of total British losses in Afghanistan.
For this contingent, reassigned now to central Helmand, it was the third withdrawal from combat duties on the Afghan front lines in four years – first from Musa Qala, then Kajaki and now Sangin.
UKdefense secretary Liam Fox said the British units who served in Sangin "should be very proud of the achievements they have made in one of the most challenging areas of Afghanistan." But some military observers found the withdrawal reminiscent of the British pull-out from the Southern Iraqi province of Basra at the end of 2008 after a quiet deal with the radical al-Mahdi militia to refrain from attacking UK troops if they withdrew from active combat.
debkafile's military sources report no sign of any such deal with the Taliban for Sangin, although the British handover to US marines may be taken to imply this understanding.
It would appear, in fact, that the entire 10,000-strong British contingent in Afghanistan is pulling in its horns and withdrawing to bases in central Helmand with no word about their new combat duties anywhere else. Our sources understand that London is only waiting for political and logistical conditions to be right for the final drawdown of the entire force.
What this means for US Gen. David Petraeus, overall NATO commander in Afghanistan is the phased disappearance of the largest contingent after the Americans in Afghanistan While some US defense officials and commanders have said that the 18,000 "surge" troops reaching the country since August will have no difficulty in filling the gap, debkafile's military sources say they are over-simplifying the reality in the field.
The roughly 100,000 Americans deployed in Afghanistan, about two-thirds of the Western force, will be stretched even thinner to cover the new battlefronts Taliban has opened in recent weeks in the West, North and East. Seeing the Americans piling on strength in the explosive South, the Taliban have refocused their efforts in new , faraway sectors.
Our sources add that the Cameron government is not only phasing out its war effort in Afghanistan, it is in the throes of drastic defense spending cuts at large. Britain's days as a world military power are over. The coalition government headed by the Conservative David Cameron and Lib-Dem Nicolas Clegg appears to have lost the will, and not just the wherewithal, for maintaining a large, modern and effective military.
Experts warn that the Britain is forfeiting its ability to secure national interests abroad, or even defend the British Isles against nuclear attack or a large-scale terrorist strike.
On the chopping board at present are the scale of the Trident submarine fleet, the scope of British armored and tank forces and the future of such ambitious naval vessels as aircraft carriers – along with their hi-tech armaments and equipment. Therefore, the British parting with Sangin goes beyond a tactical setback for the US-led war in Afghanistan; it marks the beginning of the end of Britain's military cooperation with the United States.