Afghanistan — Royal Marine witnesses progress in Sangin

Five years after first deploy­ing to San­gin, Roy­al Marine Cap­tain Mar­ty Adams is back in the town and is wit­ness­ing some of the progress made there thanks to the mil­i­tary effort and the civil­ian ‘surge’ by the UK Government’s Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Unit.

An Afghan child at one of around 800 stalls now open in Sangin's bazaar
An Afghan child at one of around 800 stalls now open in Sangin’s bazaar
Source: Sergeant Kei­th Cot­ton RLC, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Cap­tain Adams is serv­ing with 40 Com­man­do Roy­al Marines in the San­gin dis­trict cen­tre.

He was last in the town in 2005 serv­ing with the Mobile Air Oper­a­tions Team, part of Joint Heli­copter Force (Afghanistan).

Since that time the efforts of British troops have made the dis­trict cen­tre a much safer place for the locals and ISAF forces.

But improve­ments in the area are also due to the work of the Sta­bil­i­sa­tion Unit, co-owned by the Min­istry of Defence, the For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Office and the Depart­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment, which has been at the heart of a civil­ian surge in San­gin since 2008.

Describ­ing improve­ments to secu­ri­ty in the dis­trict cen­tre, Cap­tain Adams said:

“In 2005 the secu­ri­ty out­side of the FOB [For­ward Oper­at­ing Base] was prac­ti­cal­ly none. Our­selves as sol­diers, we couldn’t go out­side the FOB for fear of being attacked and occa­sion­al­ly we were attacked inside the FOB.

“But since then, due to the progress that we’ve made, we’ve man­aged to push the bub­ble of secu­ri­ty out from this loca­tion and beyond the cen­tre of San­gin itself.”

When Cap­tain Adams was first in San­gin, For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Jack­son came under sus­tained attack from insur­gents oper­at­ing with­in the dis­trict cen­tre.

Now, the weapons on the tow­er of the Fire Sup­port Group (FSG) build­ing which pro­tects the base are large­ly silent:

“I was here attached to the Light Infantry, and they were essen­tial­ly defend­ing them­selves,” said Cap­tain Adams. “They weren’t real­ly able to push for­ward out­side of the FOB… Now the local com­mu­ni­ty have the free­dom to have what is a nor­mal life, which is essen­tial­ly what every­one wants any­way.

Police Mentoring Troop
A patrol by mem­bers of the Police Men­tor­ing Troop based at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Jack­son in San­gin. These patrols are cen­tral to improv­ing free­dom of move­ment for the local nation­als
Source: LA(Phot) Si Ethell, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

“They can go shop­ping and move around free from intim­i­da­tion from the Tal­iban because of the secu­ri­ty pro­vid­ed by the Afghan and ISAF forces.”

An exam­ple of this devel­op­ment is the Hel­mand Riv­er cross­ing which can be seen from the FSG tow­er. Before, it used to be a rick­ety bridge that fre­quent­ly got washed away.

Now, there is a fer­ry cross­ing and and an Afghan police secu­ri­ty check­point pro­vid­ing access into the town.

Cap­tain Adams com­ment­ed:

“There used to be a riv­er cross­ing with one or two boats. It was quite restrict­ed because the Tal­iban and oth­er insur­gent groups would dom­i­nate in the area, but now that the Afghan and the ISAF secu­ri­ty forces have pro­vid­ed pro­tec­tion, the locals can come and go as they please and there is a lot more activ­i­ty at the cross­ing point.

“The sta­bil­i­sa­tion force is the main effort real­ly. They’re the peo­ple who are going to bring gov­er­nance to this area, whilst we the sol­diers pro­vide the secu­ri­ty for them to do it.”

Amongst those deliv­er­ing the civil­ian sta­bil­i­sa­tion effort is Andy Cor­co­ran, who deployed to San­gin as a dis­trict polit­i­cal offi­cer in Octo­ber 2008. His civil­ian role was a crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant piece in the over­all jig­saw, help­ing mil­i­tary com­man­ders to under­stand the local polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion.

Tan­gi­ble progress with new schools and health clin­ics and bazaars reopen­ing is the most obvi­ous evi­dence of improve­ment said Mr Cor­co­ran.

Yet equal­ly impor­tant to long-term suc­cess is the intan­gi­ble progress implic­it in estab­lish­ing who the key fig­ures with­in the local com­mu­ni­ty are, devel­op­ing rela­tion­ships with them, build­ing a pic­ture of the community’s needs and under­stand­ing what it would take to move them away from the Tal­iban to sup­port the local gov­ern­ment.

Captain Marty Adams from 40 Commando Royal Marines is currently serving in Sangin
Cap­tain Mar­ty Adams from 40 Com­man­do Roy­al Marines is cur­rent­ly serv­ing in San­gin
Source: Cor­po­ral Bar­ry Lloyd RLC, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The Kab­ul Gov­ern­ment also played a sig­nif­i­cant role in Sangin’s emer­gence from cri­sis. Nick Pounds, a sta­bil­i­sa­tion advi­sor who deployed to San­gin in July 2008, said:

“We got a min­is­ter to vis­it San­gin to open gov­ern­ment offices, the school and the clin­ic.

“It was the first time an Afghan min­is­ter had been seen in San­gin — prob­a­bly since the king died. It was real­ly good for him and good for the peo­ple of San­gin.”

Dur­ing Mr Pounds’s peri­od in San­gin, pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty to allow the peo­ple to engage with the local gov­ern­ment and go about their dai­ly lives with con­fi­dence was the high­est pri­or­i­ty, and he helped devel­op a a joint civ­il-mil­i­tary sta­bil­i­sa­tion plan cre­at­ing three secu­ri­ty zones with a com­bined area of approx­i­mate­ly eight square kilo­me­tres.

At the heart of San­gin was the secure gov­er­nance zone, home to the school, gov­ern­ment agen­cies and NGOs (Non-Gov­ern­men­tal Organ­i­sa­tions). Next came the eco­nom­ic zone, con­sist­ing of the bazaar and its imme­di­ate envi­rons. The last of the three areas, mov­ing out from the town cen­tre, were the four focus zones based around Afghan Nation­al Army (ANA) patrol bases:

“In terms of effect, it was a suc­cess,” said Mr Pounds. “We secured the area we set out to secure. We pro­vid­ed secu­ri­ty in the gov­er­nance zone, pro­tec­tion in the eco­nom­ic zone and estab­lished an ANA pres­ence in the focus zones.”

Sta­bil­i­sa­tion depends on a per­mis­sive secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion. With this achieved, com­mer­cial activ­i­ty could resume. The bazaar start­ed to thrive, boost­ed by a grants scheme to encour­age shop­keep­ers to reopen their stalls, linked to the region­al governor’s seed dis­tri­b­u­tion pro­gramme. Very quick­ly 120 shops reopened:

“By the time I left, the bazaar con­tained 700 to 800 shops sell­ing every­thing from cars and mobile phones to grain and satel­lite dish­es,” Mr Pounds said.

A soldier out on patrol engages with the local population
A sol­dier out on patrol engages with the local pop­u­la­tion
Source: Sergeant Kei­th Cot­ton RLC, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Phil Weath­er­ill, a civ­il engi­neer who deployed to San­gin as a sta­bil­i­sa­tion advi­sor in Octo­ber last year, said:

“Eco­nom­i­cal­ly and social­ly the lives of Afghans here are chang­ing for the bet­ter on a month­ly basis; it has tak­en a long time to get to this state and there have been, and will con­tin­ue to be, chal­lenges along the way but I hon­est­ly believe that slow­ly the peo­ple of San­gin are begin­ning to be won over.”

Devel­op­ment con­tin­ues apace, pro­vid­ing a stark con­trast to Tal­iban-con­trolled areas. The Dis­trict Devel­op­ment Agency has com­plet­ed more than 70 projects in the last six months. Health and edu­ca­tion have both ben­e­fit­ed dra­mat­i­cal­ly.

The Gov­ern­ment has opened 45 com­mu­ni­ty schools and four nation­al Gov­ern­ment schools. There are now five free Gov­ern­ment health facil­i­ties as well as numer­ous pri­vate clin­ics.

The Roy­al Marines from 40 Com­man­do will con­tin­ue to help improve the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in and around San­gin, allow­ing the devel­op­ment of sta­bil­i­sa­tion efforts, until the end of their deploy­ment in Octo­ber 2010.

The Marines are cur­rent­ly work­ing with Amer­i­can forces who will take over the pro­vi­sion of secu­ri­ty in San­gin when the Marines depart.

The UK-led Provin­cial Recon­struc­tion Team in Hel­mand and sta­bil­i­sa­tion advi­sors will con­tin­ue their vital role of deliv­er­ing gov­er­nance and socio-eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment in the area.

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK

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