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.”