Afghanistan — Steady and significant progress in Helmand

Progress in Hel­mand has been steady and sig­nif­i­cant over the last six months, Brigadier Richard Fel­ton, the out­go­ing com­man­der of Task Force Hel­mand said today.

A Royal Marine on patrol with his Afghan National Police counterpart in Helmand Province
A Roy­al Marine on patrol with his Afghan Nation­al Police coun­ter­part in Hel­mand Province
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Brig Fel­ton has been com­mand­ing British and oth­er ISAF forces in Hel­mand since April 2010 in the deploy­ment known as Oper­a­tion HERRICK 12, whose lead for­ma­tion has been 4th Mech­a­nized Brigade. He is due to hand over author­i­ty in the Province to 16 Air Assault Brigade in the next few days.

Speak­ing to the press via video link from Afghanistan today, Brig Fel­ton said that dur­ing his peri­od of com­mand he has seen much progress in the region — not least in the devel­op­ment of the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces and con­sol­i­da­tion of areas recent­ly brought under com­mand of the Afghan Gov­ern­ment and ISAF forces.

Brig Fel­ton said:

“When I deployed my intent real­ly was pro­tect­ing the peo­ple as a pri­or­i­ty, to pro­tect them, respect them and also make sure you can iso­late the insur­gent from them. I saw part­ner­ing with the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces as my cen­tre of grav­i­ty — and that not just in train­ing them but in enabling grow­ing them and devel­op­ing them.”

The brigadier explained that from this he devel­oped his oper­a­tional pri­or­i­ties, these being; the devel­op­ment of gov­er­nance, increased free­dom of move­ment, expand­ing the capac­i­ty of the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces and last­ly dis­rupt­ing the insur­gent.

Split­ting the six-month tour into three phras­es, Brig Fel­ton said that the first of those phas­es, which he labelled the coher­ence phase ran from April to May 2010:

“The first thing I want­ed to do when I got here was to estab­lish and build an Afghan plan,” he explained.

“It was very impor­tant for the Afghans to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for the oper­a­tions in Hel­mand province. This was part of the devel­op­ment of the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces.”

This led to the devel­op­ment of a series of oper­a­tions that were designed with the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces that took place over the sum­mer. Focus in this phase was also placed on intel­li­gence, counter IED work and com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

The next phase, dubbed the con­sol­i­da­tion phase, ran from June to July 2010 and was marked by the end of the pop­py har­vest in the province. Brig Fel­ton con­tin­ued:

“Unsur­pris­ing­ly we saw a large rise in vio­lence dur­ing this peri­od and 37 of the Task Force’s troops were lost dur­ing this two month peri­od. This, as we expect­ed, was the peak of the insurgent’s pres­sure.”

In response, the pres­sure was applied through increas­ing — and main­tain­ing — the tem­po of ISAF oper­a­tions. This, Brig Fel­ton says, was impor­tant due to the lack of a high pro­file large scale oper­a­tion dur­ing the tour such as Oper­a­tion MOSHTARAK dur­ing HERRICK 11 or Oper­a­tion PANCHAI PALANG dur­ing HERRICK 10:

“In that time peri­od of con­sol­i­da­tion we also saw the deploy­ment of the The­atre Reserve Bat­tal­ion and I need­ed it to main­tain the momen­tum that I had start­ed and it allowed me to have more manoeu­vre and con­duct a num­ber of oper­a­tions I need­ed to do to help deep­en the ‘build.’”

This led into the final phase in August and Sep­tem­ber 2010 — labelled the ‘con­ti­nu­ity’ phase; build­ing on the gains made in the pre­vi­ous two months and with a focus of expand­ing Afghan gov­er­nance and free­dom of move­ment for polit­i­cal lead­ers and local Afghans.

Reflect­ing on the progress achieved as a result of these three phas­es from the per­spec­tive of pro­tect­ing com­mu­ni­ties, Brig Fel­ton said:

“We have made con­sid­er­able progress in this.

“We have prob­a­bly quadru­pled, at least, the num­ber of com­mu­ni­ties that are now pro­tect­ed. But this is inten­sive both in terms of the equip­ment it needs and in the man pow­er it needs and we have been work­ing very hard with our part­ners to make sure we can man the var­i­ous check points and patrol bases that are used with­in this mod­el.

“This will also see the Afghan Nation­al Police take over these pro­tec­tion duties in due course and leave our­selves and the Afghan Nation­al Army to con­cen­trate on the con­test­ed areas.”

He went on to explain that the pop­u­la­tion were also con­test­ed and the larg­er aim was to con­vince them that it was bet­ter to live under Afghan Gov­er­nance and pro­tec­tion than out­side. To this end devel­op­ment pro­grammes have been run­ning, led by the Provin­cial Recon­struc­tion Team.

Build­ing on the work of HERRICK 11 there has also been exten­sive fur­ther work to route tri­dent over the last six months. This key road links the trad­ing cen­tres of Lashkar Gah and Gereshk:

“The dif­fer­ence that road is mak­ing and will make when it is com­plete to the local econ­o­my and to the local peo­ple will be sig­nif­i­cant,” Brig Fel­ton said.

To illus­trate the improve­ment in free­dom of move­ment over the peri­od Brig Fel­ton high­light­ed the fact that on Route Ele­phant, which runs from the Durai Junc­tion on High­way 1 to Lashkar Gah, 1,400 vehi­cles a day feel con­fi­dent enough to use it, com­pared to just 200 six months ago.

He also said that taxis and busses were now will­ing to trav­el to many more areas — and for low­er fares.

Progress has also been seen in the Afghan Secu­ri­ty Forces and Brig Fel­ton point­ed to a ten per cent increase in trained ANA troops on the ground and well over 1,000 more trained police.

The increase in police has been assist­ed by the open­ing of the Hel­mand Police Train­ing Cen­tre in Lashkar Gah in Decem­ber 2009. Since open­ing, the cen­tre has trained more than 1,200 patrol­men and 130 non-com­mis­sioned offi­cers:

“The prod­uct of the Hel­mand Police Col­lege when I go around with dif­fer­ent chiefs of police is stark,” Brig Fel­ton said.

“These police are well moti­vat­ed, they have a good ethos, they are well trained and they stand out as a bea­con with­in their soci­eties.”

Turn­ing to his per­son­al reflec­tions on the last six months Brig Fel­ton said that he felt immense pride in the forces he had com­mand­ed:

“I feel immense pride in the progress they have achieved,” Brig Fel­ton said.

“They have done the hard yards, not me, and the progress that have achieved has been incred­i­ble.”

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK

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