In Afghanistan, Helmand Province is the deadliest region, and the most violent of all districts is Sangin District. Nearly 950 coalition troops have lost their lives there.
Within the past 48 hours, the last U.S. Marines left the Northern Helmand Province.
Most of those Marines were based in San Diego. Leading them away was Captain Alistair Howard, 36, from La Mesa.
Three of Howard’s five deployments were to Sangin. His first tour was in 2010, when the people in Sangin were under constant threat from the Taliban.
“It was chaotic. We were working with the Afghans, and the AFP were barely holding on, which is the Afghan Uniformed Police,” Howard said from Camp Leatherneck in a Skype interview with NBC 7.
It took three years of battles and rebuilding to overtake the Taliban and train Afghan forces to provide security, he said, the kind of security that allowed residents to hold free elections despite, at times, acts of life-threatening intimidation.
“To see that the people came out and they actually went out to vote to shape their future…to be a part of that in Sangin and all of Afghanistan was amazing,” Howard said.
Howard said leading his troops out of Sangin was bittersweet. He thought about the troops who had sacrificed life and limb for this mission.
“If they could see what we saw when we left and the success that all the years that we had there and the many battalions that came through Sangin, that it was well worthwhile and that the people of Sangin are very successful and they are going to live a better life because of what we did.”
Howard said he hopes the people who have lived in fear for decades in Sangin will now live in peace.
Howard’s mission is not over yet; he will likely remain in Afghanistan until the fall.