Division Commander Reflects On Afghanistan Tour

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2011 — When Oper­a­tion Moshtarak in Mar­ja, Afghanistan, was not meet­ing its secu­ri­ty and devel­op­ment goals accord­ing to plan, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills was brought in to help in mov­ing the sit­u­a­tion along.
Mills served as com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force’s Region­al Com­mand South­west in Afghanistan from April 2010 until last month.

Dur­ing his tenure, Mills kept intense pres­sure on insur­gents while nur­tur­ing close work­ing rela­tion­ships with Afghan allies in Hel­mand and Nim­ruz provinces, ensur­ing their involve­ment and com­mit­ment in devel­op­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty.

“The year that we were there, I think we saw a remark­able change in the sit­u­a­tion on the ground,” Mills said dur­ing a “DOD Live” blog­gers round­table yes­ter­day. “I inher­it­ed a sit­u­a­tion that was improv­ing every day.”

Mills’ eclec­tic com­mand was made up main­ly of British forces, with sup­port from forces from Geor­gia, Esto­nia, Den­mark, Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, Bahrain, and Ton­ga. “Dur­ing the year that we were there, I saw a remark­able increase in the capa­bil­i­ty and con­fi­dence of the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces — both the police and the army — and when we left, the Afghan army forces were about three brigades, all capa­ble of semi-inde­pen­dent oper­a­tion,” Mills said.

Among the suc­cess­es of Oper­a­tion Moshtarak were the force’s vic­to­ries against insur­gent oper­a­tions, push­ing them back and sep­a­rat­ing them from soci­ety to lessen their influ­ence on the pop­u­la­tion and empow­er the bur­geon­ing secu­ri­ty force.

“High­lights of our time over there were the cul­mi­na­tion of the bat­tle of Mar­ja, the bat­tle of San­gin, and sev­er­al oth­er fights that took place along the Hel­mand Riv­er to push the insur­gents away from the final areas they occu­pied [and to] sep­a­rate them from the pop­u­la­tion and reduce the impact that they would have,” he said.

The vic­to­ry at Mar­ja was impor­tant for sev­er­al rea­sons, Mills explained. From a psy­cho­log­i­cal stand­point, it is Helmand’s provin­cial cap­i­tal, so hold­ing the city meant the insur­gents had less of an influ­ence on the Pash­tu com­mu­ni­ty and gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion. It also served as a great resource of fund­ing the insur­gency, as Mar­ja sits in an area with a high vol­ume of drug pro­duc­tion.

By tar­get­ing areas where drug pro­duc­tion was tak­ing place, Mills said, his forces slow­ly but suc­cess­ful­ly pushed insur­gents out of down­town Mar­ja and took the fight to the ene­my, build­ing on momen­tum and turn­ing the tide of bat­tle by get­ting the insur­gents on the defen­sive. They also worked with local elders to estab­lish a good work­ing rela­tion­ship with the police force and secu­ri­ty forces, he added, and even­tu­al­ly these well-nur­tured rela­tion­ships led to estab­lish­ing local police forces.

Over time, Mills said, he saw devel­op­ment improve in roads, phone sys­tems and oth­er areas impor­tant to infra­struc­ture and self-sus­tain­abil­i­ty, as well as a decrease in pop­py growth that under­mined insur­gents’ opi­um trade.

The gen­er­al said he also saw sev­er­al pos­i­tive elec­tions take place, includ­ing nation­al par­lia­men­tary elec­tions in Sep­tem­ber and five dis­trict com­mu­ni­ty coun­cils elect­ed through­out the province. And thanks to an edu­ca­tion pro­gram, he said, 125,000 stu­dents are now enrolled in school, about 20,000 of them female. And the gains show signs of sus­tain­abil­i­ty, the gen­er­al said.

“I think some of the indi­ca­tors that these gains would be long-last­ing was the com­mit­ment by the Hel­mand pop­u­la­tion to the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan, as exem­pli­fied by their sup­port of the edu­ca­tion ini­tia­tives,” he said. “I think that indi­cat­ed a real invest­ment by the pop­u­la­tion in the future of the province.”

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

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