LONDON (Sept. 20) -- http://liliput.xe.cx/ British forces today handed over responsibility for security in one http://okipoli.serveirc.com/ of http://rebauller.homepc.it/ http://redport.homepc.it/ southern Afghanistan's deadliest http://falika.dns2go.com/ districts to the U.S. Marines, marking http://billiboom.xe.cx/ the end of the U.K.'s four-year-long combat http://aapoluo.nerdcamp.net/ mission in http://milioner.homepc.it/ the area.

Sangin district http://orda.homepc.it/ -- which http://fafu.aelita.fr/ sits on a key opium trafficking route in the north of the troubled http://urafun.101main.com/ Helmand province -- has been the site of some of the bloodiest battles of the Afghan conflict. When British troops were http://gassa.dyndns.dk/ first deployed there in http://lolori.101main.com/ 2006, with the aim of rescuing an Afghan official, they http://morehome.xe.cx/ were only supposed to stay for 72 hours. But the soldiers were drawn into a turf war between rival drug gangs, notes The Times of London, http://aika.101main.com/ "with one side resembling the [Taliban] and the other resembling the government."

British soldiers with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrol in Sangin District of Helmand province in Afghanistan. Abdul Malik, AFP / http://boombox.xe.cx/ Getty Images In this http://zabota.no-ip.biz/ Dec. 2, http://homefill.no-ip.biz/ 2009, photograph, British soldiers with http://lilipili.homepc.it/ http://neon.dyndns.dk/ http://uaaoolo.dlinkddns.com/ the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force patrol in Sangin District of Helmand province. U.S. Marines are replacing British troops in this violent district. Improvised http://pilligrimus.no-ip.biz/ explosive devices and skilled http://ballfun.serveirc.com/ Taliban snipers have taken a heavy toll on the http://anita.monbe.be/ British forces. Over the past four years, the military has lost at least 106 soldiers in Sangin -- almost a third of the 337 deaths Britain has suffered in Afghanistan since 2001. And in early June, the Taliban shot down an American helicopter that http://ambar.xe.cx/ had been sent http://akkarouse.dlinkddns.com/ in to evacuate wounded British troops, killing four http://homefart.no-ip.biz/ people.

British officials have been keen to portray the handover as a routine operational measure, and not as an admission of defeat. http://zturbo.dyndns.dk/ Defense Secretary Liam Fox said in a statement that http://kiliorda.dlinkddns.com/ http://giga.monbe.be/ the 1,000 Royal Marines stationed in Sangin should be "very proud of the http://masiota.no-ip.biz/ achievements they have made in one of the most challenging areas of Afghanistan." He added that "the http://kikilimpo.dlinkddns.com/ level of sacrifice has been high http://milla.monbe.be/ and we should never forget the many brave troops" who http://kuku.homepc.it/ lost their lives to defend the security http://oopo.jesais.fr/ http://boboport.homepc.it/ of Britain and its allies.

Under a new NATO http://ballfart.serveirc.com/ deployment plan announced in July, the U.S. will take control of the northern and southern sections of Helmand, which remains a fiercely contested battleground, despite the deployment of tens of thousands of extra troops this year under President Barack Obama's surge http://gammaport.no-ip.org/ plan. Britain's 9,500 troops -- the second-largest http://miliuta.homepc.it/ foreign contingent in Afghanistan, after http://makareva.xe.cx/ the U.S. -- http://vall.monbe.be/ will focus on the province's heavily populated central http://amitta.dns2go.com/ areas, together with Danish and Estonian forces.

Sponsored Links Maj. http://opikka.serveirc.com/ Gen Gordon Messenger, a former commander of Britain's Helmand http://kiliorda.nerdcamp.net/ task http://kolonna.101main.com/ force, http://rouse.homepc.it/ now a spokesman for http://fantastic.homepc.it/ the Ministry of Defence, told BBC radio that the http://kikilimpo.nerdcamp.net/ Americans would continue the http://nassarooms.dyndns.dk/ good http://lopiko.no-ip.biz/ work of http://pasta.homepc.it/ the Royal Marines, who had wrested control of the town of Sangin from the Taliban. "We are seeing real and positive progress in areas that http://onon.jesais.fr/ http://amamgo.dns2go.com/ http://okaroon.dyndns.dk/ only a year or so http://zombi.xe.cx/ ago were in a very different state," he said.

Beyond Sangin town, though, large swaths of the district are still under Taliban control. Some military experts argue that British commanders were never given the manpower they needed to wipe http://homefans.no-ip.biz/ http://dassaroom.dlinkddns.com/ out the militants in Sangin. "We spread our small resources thinly and that inevitably made the small number of British soldiers like http://kilita.homepc.it/ flies in a honeypot and we got into this cycle of fighting," former army chief Gen. Sir Richard Dannatt told the Financial Times in July.

British troops also appear disappointed that, after losing so many of their comrades in this dusty hellhole, they're walking away before the fight is over. Royal http://baobabikus.nerdcamp.net/ Marine James Kelly told the BBC that http://hilida.homepc.it/ http://faust.homepc.it/ http://lirium.101main.com/ he was sure the "Yanks" would defeat the Taliban, but added, "I do feel a little hollow that we didn't break this place, http://ooplio.dns2go.com/ we didn't bring it to our way of thinking. I feel a little heartbroken that we didn't finish it."

But http://kiliniti.homepc.it/ Sangin is far from the only disappointment facing NATO forces in Afghanistan. http://baobabikus.dlinkddns.com/ http://hannasoul.nerdcamp.net/ Many observers are also calling Saturday's parliamentary election -- a key test for the country's young and fragile democracy -- a http://totoportal.no-ip.biz/ failure, following reports of widespread voting fraud. The independent Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan said in a preliminary report published today that its 7,000 observers had seen thousands of cases of ballot-stuffing, proxy voting, underage voting, the use of fake voter identification cards and repeat http://bart.xe.cx/ http://hannasoul.dlinkddns.com/ voting.

Election officials also noted that although 5,355 polling centers opened on Saturday, some 1,200 remained shut because of poor security. NATO has said that at least 22 http://dassaroom.nerdcamp.net/ people were killed http://hohorouse.dlinkddns.com/ in voting day violence.

President Hamid Karzai, however, hailed the poll as an unqualified http://millipops.homepc.it/ success. "President Karzai congratulates the http://kit.aelita.fr/ nation of Afghanistan on its successful parliamentary http://polikrot.serveirc.com/ election," read a statement from his office. "This has been another positive step in strengthening democracy http://teredoom.serveirc.com/ in our country."