Lynn Sees Counterinsurgency Success in Afghan Village

NAWA, Afghanistan, Oct. 28, 2010 — Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jeff Holt was show­ing Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary William J. Lynn III the lay of the land of this vil­lage in Hel­mand province from atop the dis­trict gov­ern­ment cen­ter.

“We’re going to walk you to the east side for a bet­ter look at the future,” the colonel said.

While the colonel was talk­ing only about Nawa, it may be a look at what the future could hold for the whole coun­try. Lynn’s view from the roof was the cul­mi­na­tion of a vis­it that began with a walk through the town.

Oper­a­tions in Nawa showed the pow­er of inte­grat­ing secu­ri­ty, devel­op­ment, and gov­er­nance issues, Lynn said. “It’s a place where the Marines are pro­vid­ing secu­ri­ty, you have a pret­ty vibrant local gov­ern­ment that’s ful­ly engaged, and you have a provin­cial recon­struc­tion team that’s expe­ri­enced and deep, and all three are work­ing togeth­er,” he said.

Local Afghan lead­ers reached out beyond their tribes. The Marines were proac­tive not only in their secu­ri­ty mis­sion, but their gov­er­nance and engage­ment mis­sion, as well, Lynn said. “They know and under­stand from the young lance cor­po­ral all the way up that the coun­terin­sur­gency is more than the kinet­ic side,” he said. “It involves the pro­tec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion and the nur­tur­ing of the pop­u­la­tion, and they did a great job in that.”

Two years ago, more than 1,000 Marines assault­ed into this area. The town was desert­ed, the fields were plant­ed with pop­pies, and drug traf­fick­ers were in cahoots with the Tal­iban. The Marines won a tough fight, then start­ed to put the coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy into prac­tice.

First, the Marines pro­vid­ed secu­ri­ty in Nawa. They dis­armed impro­vised explo­sive devices, patrolled the streets, and killed or cap­tured Tal­iban hard lin­ers. Then they put the word out that the area was open for busi­ness. Soon peo­ple were mov­ing back to the area.

The Marines and Hel­mand provin­cial recon­struc­tion team mem­bers iden­ti­fied trib­al and nat­ur­al lead­ers in the com­mu­ni­ty and they con­nect­ed those peo­ple to the provin­cial gov­ern­ment.

The Marines also spon­sored small projects from the com­man­ders’ emer­gency response pro­gram. They hired peo­ple to clean the canal that runs through the mid­dle of town and for oth­ers to repair the bridges con­nect­ing the two sides of the city. It was mon­ey in the vil­lagers’ pock­ets, and soon they had places to spend it as shop own­ers moved into a dilap­i­dat­ed garage-look­ing struc­ture that lined both sides of the canal.

And still more peo­ple came back. The Marines and PRT mem­bers worked with Hel­mand Gov. Ghu­lab Man­gal to erad­i­cate pop­pies and opi­um pro­duc­tion as a liveli­hood in the area. Local farm­ers plant­ed their fields with wheat in the sum­mer and corn as a win­ter crop. They brought back live­stock and began grow­ing silage and build­ing places to store it.

Dis­trict Gov­er­nor Haji Abdul Man­af rose to the top of the dis­trict coun­cil and start­ed work­ing with his neigh­bors to aid the Marines and com­plete the secu­ri­ty job. The Afghan gov­ern­ment sent the army and nation­al police to work along­side the Marines.

Soon Man­af presided over a civ­il coun­cil with more than 50 elders who gath­ered every two weeks to work togeth­er for Nawa. The coun­cil includes all tribes who live in the area and fol­lows the tra­di­tion­al con­sen­sus-build­ing approach that Afghans have used for gen­er­a­tions.

More shops opened in old build­ings along the canal. They built a school, hired teach­ers and began instruc­tion. The town start­ed a civic improve­ments effort to build new shops. An ani­mal bazaar opened that soon attract­ed 5,000 peo­ple every Fri­day.

And the secu­ri­ty mis­sion has changed as well. Holt’s task Force 33 – built around the 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 3rd Marines from Hawaii – now has only about 100 Marines near the city. The rest have eased out to small­er vil­lages in the region, extend­ing the secu­ri­ty perime­ter and thus bring­ing devel­op­ment to more peo­ple.

Afghan secu­ri­ty forces – includ­ing police recruit­ed from Nawa, trained at near­by Camp Leath­er­neck, and now patrolling their home­town streets – have tak­en the place of the Marines. The future for Nawa that Lynn saw includ­ed a new police sta­tion, and cranes raised over con­struc­tion sites that includ­ed a cour­t­house and a meet­ing cen­ter.

The future also includes a new ele­men­tary school with chil­dren eager to learn. As Man­gel and Lynn approached the school, chil­dren came out and threw rose petals on them and pre­sent­ed them with bou­quets.

In Wash­ing­ton last week, Lynn approved funds for build­ing a paved high­way between Nawa and Helmand’s cap­i­tal of Lashkar Gah. When the civ­il lead­ers learned that the deputy sec­re­tary was the man who approved their request, they show­ered him with thanks and told him the name of the con­nec­tion would be Marine High­way.

Lynn also saw the site of a grand mosque; farm­ers tend­ing their fields and bring­ing in the corn crop; and orchards plant­ed with pome­gran­ate, apple and oth­er fruit trees.

Nawa is not per­fect. The canal – once dredged – is full of plas­tic garbage, and reeds have tak­en new growth. The town coun­cil would like to make the canal walls cement, but there is no mon­ey for it. Any extra will have to be spend on equip­ment and projects that have not been prop­er­ly main­tained.

There still are those who want the old days back. The old power­bro­kers, drug traf­fick­ers, and Tal­iban would slip back in if they could. The inter­faces between the dis­trict, provin­cial and nation­al gov­ern­ments are weak, and still rely on the per­son­al­i­ties of lead­ers.

The vil­lage proves that “the strat­e­gy can suc­ceed if it’s imple­ment­ed as well as it has been in Nawa,” Lynn said. “That does­n’t sug­gest it’s easy. This is tough work, and you do need all three legs of that stool – secu­ri­ty, gov­er­nance, and devel­op­ment.”

And suc­cess in Nawa is being repli­cat­ed. There are whole provinces in Region­al Command—East that may soon be turned over to Afghan forces. There are areas of Hel­mand where the Afghans have tak­en the lead and coali­tion forces are in sup­port. Oth­er oper­a­tions in Hel­mand took lessons from the Nawa expe­ri­ence and Now Zad, Lashkar Gah, Mar­ja and oth­ers have fol­lowed, the deputy sec­re­tary said. Again, it is not easy, but it is being accom­plished.

Hel­mand Gov. Man­gel – who trav­eled with Lynn to Kab­ul after the vis­it – thinks the process can take root in the San­gin Riv­er val­ley in the north­ern part of the province. “It’s a much tougher envi­ron­ment right now, but he was talk­ing about a shu­ra he held in San­gin last week that drew 900 to 1,000 peo­ple,” the deputy sec­re­tary said.

Nawa is the proof of con­cept for the coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy, said offi­cials trav­el­ing with Lynn. “What we want to do now is main­tain the momen­tum, main­tain the progress,” Col. Holt said.

Dis­trict Gov­er­nor Man­af told Lynn through a trans­la­tor just how Nawa became peace­ful. “We work togeth­er all the time, we depend on each oth­er and we lis­ten to all,” he said. To Amer­i­can ears, what he said next is a cliché. “There is no ‘I’ in team,” he told the deputy sec­re­tary. But it sound­ed new and sin­cere — and excit­ing com­ing from Afghan lips.

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter