Operators with Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command conduct a shura with local villagers outside Nahr-e Saraj district on April 8. While violence in Regional Command Southwest declined in 2012, Nahr-e Saraj remained the most violent district, accounting for roughly one-third pof all attacks in RC SW. (Cpl. Kyle McNally / Marines)
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Enemy-initiated attacks on coalition and Afghan forces in southwestern Afghanistan were down 20 percent in 2012, figures that will likely come into play as the U.S. continues its troop withdrawal after 11 years of war.
"Kinetic events" recorded in Regional Command Southwest dropped from 15,271 in 2011 to 12,214 in 2012, according to http://marinecorpstimes.com/static/projects/pages/marine-report-attacks-afghanistan.pdf">statistics released by Marine officials. Coalition operations in the region are overseen by I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), commanded by Maj. Gen. Charles "Mark" Gurganus. He leads operations in Nimroz and Helmand provinces, the latter of which remains one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan.
There was still an average of about 33 attacks a day recorded across RC-Southwest in 2012, Marine officials said. However, that's down from about 42 a day in 2011.
The decline in violence across the region can largely be attributed to reductions in attacks in several Helmand districts that have seen fierce fighting over the past few years.
Notably, attacks dropped from 2,778 to 1,216 in Sangin, from 1,592 to 782 in Marjah, and from 1,648 to 1,156 in Musa Qala. That's down about 56 percent, 51 percent and 30 percent, respectively.
There also were fewer coalition troops to target as the year progressed, due in part to the drawdown of U.S. forces. About 17,000 Marines were deployed in the region at the beginning of 2012, but less than 7,000 by year's end.
However, the statistics also include attacks on Afghan forces, said Lt. Col. Stewart Upton, a Marine spokesman in Helmand. The International Security Assistance Force overseeing the war from Kabul counts attacks involving direct fire, indirect fire, surface-to-air fire and improvised explosive devices and mine strikes among the figures.
Marine officials said the decrease in violence can be attributed to progress made in beating back the Taliban. Insurgents launched a major effort in late summer to target Afghan National Security Forces as they were put in the lead in providing security, but gains were short-lived, said Lt. Col. Donald Tomich, commander of 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, out of Twentynine Palms, Calif.
Tomich's troops are spread across Sangin, Kajaki, Musa Qala and Now Zad districts. He said the insurgents left are now "more of a gang-like group" focused on criminal activities, rather than attacking coalition forces.
"It's hard to call these guys true Taliban with some of the things that are really going on," he said in a phone interview. "It's more focused on drug activities and protecting that livelihood piece here."
Attacks didn't decrease everywhere, however. In particular, they were up in Nad Ali and Kajaki, the latter of which was the site of a major operation, Eastern Storm, in 2011 that led to a larger coalition presence at the start of 2012, which shook up Taliban strongholds.
Helmand also is still home to the most violent district in Afghanistan, Nahr-e Saraj, Pentagon officials said in a report released in December. In 2012, there were 3,927 attacks recorded there, about a third of all the attacks in RC-Southwest and three times more than any other district in Helmand.