On the Sangin handover
The handover of Sangin to the US Marines has rid the British of their most troublesome district in Afghanistan. Some 106 British lives were lost there, and several times that number of Afghans has perished, since Paras were first sent there in the summer of 2006.
Many soldiers will be only too pleased to see the back of the place. A six month tour meant running the gauntlet of snipers, booby traps and ambushes sometimes placed just yards from the gates of your patrol base.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has tried to handle the situation with due deference to British, Afghan and US political sensibilities. It wants to suggest that much has been achieved during the British time in Sangin but to shy away at the same time from body counts or claims that might sound like bravado.
So the emphasis has been on a doubling of shops open in the bazaar, hundreds visiting the district health centre weekly, and the reopening of schools. All of these are no doubt significant measures of society trying to get back to normal in Sangin. But as we discovered when visiting earlier this year, the Taliban commission in the district has also played a role in agreeing to health or education improvements.
The key issue or indicator is therefore security. British officers tell me there has recently been a distinct improvement in security there, speaking of an 80% drop in attacks on coalition forces. Two British soldiers were killed in the district during August, compared to ten during August 2009.
So it's possible that at the eleventh hour, the British generals who believed that some kind of turnaround had to be achieved before the place was handed to the Americans have had their prayers answered.
The MoD, however, when asked today by Newsnight for monthly figures for significant attacks on coalition forces in Sangin declined to provide them. Why, you might say, if these figures do indeed reveal any sort of positive trend? The answer seems to be that it is MoD policy not to release such figures because doing so would set a precedent. Naturally, there are many places where they would not show a positive trend.
Such a policy underlines the difficulty of reporting the war, in trying to make an assessment of what is really going on in many parts of Afghanistan. So perhaps it's not surprising that so many of those working on this conflict - from journalists to aid workers or academics - therefore welcomed the Wikileaks publication of secret files on the conduct of the war.