WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2011 — While progress remains fragile in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, a civilian-military partnership is helping the Afghan people there make strides in governance, the judicial system, police effectiveness and education, a senior official involved in the effort said today.
Michael O’Neill, Great Britain’s senior representative in southern Afghanistan and the head of the civil-military mission, has traveled to 11 districts in Helmand since he arrived there in October.
Good progress has taken place thanks to provincial Gov. Mohammad Gulab Mangal, coalition forces and the provincial reconstruction team],” O’Neill told Pentagon reporters in a video teleconference from Camp Leatherneck.
Helmand’s provincial reconstruction team is made up of 200 people from eight nations who are specialists in development, diplomacy, policing, law, local government, education and agriculture. O’Neill said progress in governance is visible in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, as well as in Geresk and, increasingly, in places such as Marja, Khanishin and Naw Zad.
The growth in governance can be seen in “better structures and systems put in place, with more staff [and] more resilience,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill and the United Kingdom-led reconstruction team work with Regional Command Southwest in establishing governance and security across the province.
“There are a lot more schools open now than there were 12 months ago, [and] more kids in schools, including girls,” he said. He added that other efforts also have paid off, such as Mangal’s work in counternarcotics and a 37 percent reduction in poppy cultivation in the last two years.
“You’re seeing a lot of positives here,” O’Neill said, adding that he believes it’s a result of Mangal’s political leadership and improvements in security and freedom of movement, Afghan army and police forces, and what he termed as a “very close partnership” with coalition troops from the United States, United Kingdom, Denmark and Estonia.
Conditions remain fragile, O’Neill said, because Afghan and coalition forces continue to come under attack.
“Afghanistan is one of the very poorest countries in the world,” he said. “It’s suffered from 30 years of conflict. So it’s not surprising that the progress is hard to achieve, and it’s going to take more time.”
The challenge for 2011, he said, involves consolidating and deepening the progress that has taken place over the last 12 to 18 months.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)