Afghanistan — Partnership Brings Better Governance to Helmand

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2010 — Res­i­dents of Afghanistan’s Hel­mand province have more usable roads, more food, and bet­ter health care and edu­ca­tion than they did even six months ago, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills said yes­ter­day.
Mills com­mands Region­al Com­mand South­west, which encom­pass­es Hel­mand province. Mills and Hel­mand Gov. Gulab Man­gal briefed Pen­ta­gon reporters yes­ter­day via video uplink from Camp Leath­er­neck, the command’s base near the south­ern province’s capi­tol of Lashkar Gah.

Mills com­mands a force of U.S. Marines and oth­er com­bat and sup­port troops from the Unit­ed King­dom, Den­mark, Esto­nia, Geor­gia and Bahrain. The troops and their Afghan army and police coun­ter­parts have improved secu­ri­ty and are enabling devel­op­ment through much of the province, he said. Mills also cred­its Man­gal for Helmand’s suc­cess.

“He is respon­si­ble, real­ly, for all of the progress we have made here with­in the province over the past sev­en or eight months, and he has left his imprint on the peo­ple here through bet­ter gov­er­nance, bet­ter devel­op­ment and bet­ter secu­ri­ty,” Mills said. Man­gal served as a colonel in the Afghan army, and also worked in the country’s Min­istry of the Inte­ri­or. He held the gov­er­nor­ship in two oth­er provinces, Pak­ti­ka and then Lagh­man, before accept­ing appoint­ment as Helmand’s gov­er­nor in 2008.

Mangal’s ini­tia­tives in Hel­mand include the Afghan Social Out­reach Pro­gram, which works to fos­ter stronger rela­tion­ships between the provin­cial gov­ern­ment and dis­trict res­i­dents, and the Provin­cial Counter-Nar­cotics Strat­e­gy, which includes a “food-zone” pro­gram aimed at help­ing farm­ers move from pop­py cul­ti­va­tion to grow­ing food crops. Under the food pro­gram, Mangal’s admin­is­tra­tion offers seed, fer­til­iz­er and saplings to farm­ers who agree to grow wheat, oth­er grains, vines or fruit trees instead of pop­pies. Mills and Man­gal described from the gov­ern­men­tal and mil­i­tary per­spec­tives the changes they’ve seen in Hel­mand. Mills said his forces have built on the pre­vi­ous efforts of Unit­ed King­dom troops since the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force estab­lished the south­west region­al com­mand in June.

Coali­tion and Afghan forces have dri­ven the ene­my out of Mar­jah and are expand­ing their hold in San­gin, the province’s final insur­gent cen­ter, Mills said. The command’s cur­rent effort is to hold the cen­ter dis­tricts and main­tain improved secu­ri­ty there, Mills said, adding, “I’m putting a lot of time and troops into deep­en­ing that hold.”

Coali­tion civil­ian-mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion in the province is very good, he said.

“All of it is linked very care­ful­ly with the direc­tion the gov­er­nor gives us as we move along,” the gen­er­al said. “From the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, of course, we have the provin­cial recon­struc­tion team, which has been on the ground here for sev­er­al years. It’s U.K.-led [and] it deals with the devel­op­ment and the gov­er­nance piece of our lines of oper­a­tion.”

The team is based in Lashkar Gah and includes U.S. civil­ian and mil­i­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tives who work dai­ly with the gov­er­nor on civ­il projects, edu­ca­tion and health issues, he said. A State Depart­ment pres­ence estab­lished at Camp Leath­er­neck bol­sters the command’s efforts to address devel­op­men­tal, eco­nom­ic and gen­der issues among Hel­mand res­i­dents, Mills said. Civil­ian con­tri­bu­tions also are key in the dis­trict sup­port teams work­ing in the pop­u­la­tion cen­ters to “help raise the cal­iber and the capa­bil­i­ty of the local gov­ern­ment,” he said. Mills said civil­ian-mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion is led by a team that includes the gov­er­nor, the leader of the provin­cial recon­struc­tion team, the leader of the State Depart­ment ele­ment, and him­self as the mil­i­tary com­man­der.

The team ensures uni­ty of effort in pro­vid­ing Helmand’s peo­ple with “not sim­ply feel-good projects, but endur­ing projects that will last for years and will raise the cal­iber of their lives,” he said.

Projects under­way include canal and road work, food pro­grams, gen­der ini­tia­tives, and about 300 com­mu­ni­ty improve­ment projects, at a cost of $57 mil­lion, he said. Man­gal, speak­ing through an inter­preter, said coali­tion forces and the Afghan nation­al army and police forces’ improved capa­bil­i­ties have paved the way for bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions through­out Hel­mand.

In 2008, only six of the province’s 13 dis­tricts had an Afghan cen­tral gov­ern­ment pres­ence, and only with­in the dis­trict cen­ters. Gov­ern­ment offices that did exist in the dis­tricts lacked the capa­bil­i­ty to fur­nish basic ser­vices, Man­gal said. Now, provin­cial gov­ern­ment offices are active in 10 of the dis­tricts, Man­gal said, pro­vid­ing local res­i­dents with agri­cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al ser­vices, as well as improv­ing the irri­ga­tion sys­tem.

Provin­cial-dis­trict coor­di­na­tion improves dai­ly, the gov­er­nor said. “At five dis­tricts in Hel­mand province we have com­mu­ni­ty coun­cils, which [are] a very impor­tant part of the social out­reach pro­gram,” he said. “The mem­bers of these com­mu­ni­ty coun­cils [rep­re­sent] the local res­i­dents of those dis­tricts, and they are work­ing shoul­der to shoul­der with our rep­re­sen­ta­tives down at the dis­trict lev­el.”

Infra­struc­ture improve­ments in the province include a dou­bling of pow­er pro­duc­tion, a new air­port, and new roads lead­ing from the capi­tol to dis­tricts through­out the province, he said. Expand­ing the crop base and reduc­ing pop­py cul­ti­va­tion is not only key to devel­op­ing the region’s pri­mar­i­ly agrar­i­an econ­o­my, but will curb cor­rup­tion and deny a major source of ene­my fund­ing, Man­gal said.

Dur­ing Tal­iban con­trol of the province from 2004 to 2008, he said, land under pop­py cul­ti­va­tion expand­ed from 29,000 hectares to 103,000 hectares. Man­gal said his food-zone pro­gram has reduced the per­cent­age of pop­py cul­ti­va­tion since 2008 by 40 per­cent. In 2008, the province didn’t pro­duce enough wheat to feed its own pop­u­la­tion. Through the food-zone pro­gram, this year’s pro­duc­tion in the province pro­vid­ed a sur­plus of 60 to 70 thou­sand met­ric tons of wheat export­ed to oth­er areas of Afghanistan, the gov­er­nor said.

Man­gal said he is hope­ful the decrease in pop­py cul­ti­va­tion will reach 50 per­cent of 2008 lev­els by May 2011. British Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron vis­it­ed Hel­mand on Dec. 6, and com­ment­ed on the improve­ments he saw there. At the Hel­mand Police Train­ing Cen­ter out­side Lashkar Gah, Cameron pre­sent­ed grad­u­a­tion cer­tifi­cates to new­ly qual­i­fied Afghan police­men. There, he announced the Unit­ed Kingdom’s $52 mil­lion plan to build or refur­bish 48 Afghan police sta­tions, includ­ing sev­en to be opened by spring.

Cameron also announced that the Unit­ed King­dom will dou­ble the num­ber of its Reaper air­craft in the area, giv­ing increased sup­port to ground oper­a­tions. The air­craft pro­vides live, detailed images of the area in which troops are oper­at­ing, 24 hours a day, allow­ing com­man­ders to make more informed and effec­tive deci­sions to defeat the ene­my, he said. The Reaper also is armed, and has proved suc­cess­ful in help­ing to detect and destroy ene­my tar­gets and bomb-mak­ing net­works in Afghanistan. After six vis­its to Hel­mand, Cameron said, he sees grounds for cau­tious opti­mism.

“The amount of ground that’s cov­ered by the forces is up, the amount of mar­kets that are open, the num­ber of provin­cial and dis­trict gov­er­nors that are in place, the num­ber of schools that are open, the lev­el of secu­ri­ty –- there are lots of signs of pos­i­tive improve­ment,” the British prime min­is­ter said.

(Editor’s Note: Some infor­ma­tion for this arti­cle was pro­vid­ed from an Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force news release.)

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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