Jeremy Parker was a 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal when his unit—1st Battalion, 2nd Marines—pushed into the dusty Afghan town of Musa Qala in March 2010.
The fighting, he said, was heavy at times but it was the improvised explosive devices that took their toll.
“At one point our battalion was practically combat ineffective because every time someone left the [base] we’d lose at least one vehicle if not several,” said Parker.
As of Thursday, Musa Qala is the center of renewed fighting between the Taliban and Afghan Security Forces. Prior to Parker’s deployment, the area had been fiercely contested between British troops and the Taliban, leading some in the United Kingdom to call Musa Qala a town “bathed in British blood.” After Parker left in the fall of 2010, multiple Marine battalions rotated through the area, each one fighting for months on end with an enemy that would mine the dunes and fields surrounding the town. In recent years, Musa Qala, along with the entirety of Helmand Province, has been vacated by U.S. and international troops and left to Afghan security forces.
Now, as fighting flares up once more, some Afghan officials have the said the district has been lost completely to the Taliban, while others have said only parts have been taken over, according to a recent report by NBC News. The loss of territory by the Afghans has been in spite of repeated airstrikes by the U.S. in the region, a rarity in a war that this country has declared all but over.
“US forces have conducted multiple kinetic strikes in Musa Qala over the past 72 hours,” said Susan Harrington, a spokeswoman for Operation Resolute Support, in an email.
While Musa Qala is mostly a desolate loam of a town, it is situated near a key north-to-south running road, known by U.S. forces as route red and is also a strategic bridge for forces and supplies flowing from Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand, and the fertile town of Sangin.
For Parker, whose battalion lost 13 Marines during the push to retake large swaths of Musa Qala, the loss of a town he once fought for is disheartening.
“I just think it’s a huge let down, to all the guys who fought and suffered through taking and holding it, and especially to all those who were injured or [Killed in Action],” Parker said. “Kind of make you feel like it was all for nothing.”
Musa Qala, however, is just another defeat in a string of defeats. Earlier this month the Taliban retook the town of Now Zad, a mountainous strip of village clusters just to the west of Musa Qala. To document their victory, the Taliban filmed a video of their fighters capturing Afghan military positions and U.S.-supplied Humvees. In 2008 and 2009, the town had been a hotly contested when U.S. forces attempted to roll back gains made by the Taliban after the area had been under British control.
In April 2009, Staff Sgt. John Strobridge was the team leader of a reconnaissance group tasked with directing airstrikes for a Marine assault into the restive strip of valleys and houses in Now Zad. The operation, known as Eastern Resolve I and II, was a large operation to rid the Taliban from the area once and for all.
“The Taliban had their forward line of troops and we had ours,” said Strobridge, whose team was just hundreds of yards away from where it was directing airstrikes against the enemy.
According to Strobridge, the Taliban’s seizure of the province six years after his deployment there is just one part of a disturbing trend.
“This is just a reoccurring theme that we’re seeing in places where we’ve conducted major operations. We’ve seen it in Ramadi and now we’re seeing it in Now Zad and Musa Qala,” Strobridge said, referring to the loss of the Iraqi city of Ramadi to the Islamic State. “Not only is it disappointing, but these losses are enormous.”
Earlier this week, two U.S. airmen were killed by an Afghan soldier in an apparent insider attack at Camp Antonik in Helmand Province. The United States has lost 2,363 service members since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001, a large number of them in Helmand.