Military-Civil Partnership Shines in Helmand, Diplomat Says

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1, 2011 — The senior U.S. civil­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Afghanistan today described as “rich” and “com­plex” the mil­i­tary-civil­ian part­ner­ship he and oth­ers say has brought great progress to the country’s south­west region.

The State Department’s J. Paul Reid, who is locat­ed with the U.S. 2nd Marine Expe­di­tionary Force, and Michael O’Neill, the senior British civil­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the area, spoke to the Pen­ta­gon press corps via video tele­con­fer­ence about dra­mat­ic changes in Hel­mand province and sur­round­ing areas.

“Any­one who wants to cre­ate a mod­el of best prac­tices should come here to Hel­mand,” Reid said of the part­ner­ship that includes U.S., British, Dan­ish, Eston­ian and Afghan forces along­side the State Depart­ment and oth­er inter­na­tion­al civil­ian agen­cies.

“We work hand-in-glove,” O’Neill agreed. “And the areas of the best progress are where com­mu­ni­ca­tions and coor­di­na­tion are the clos­est. Team­work is absolute­ly essen­tial.”

Even peo­ple in Afghanistan have been unaware of how much things have changed in Hel­mand since U.S. and British Marines pushed out the Tal­iban and secured the area, Reid and O’Neill said. Only a few years ago, they said, Hel­mand was under harsh Tal­iban rule with­out gov­ern­ment ser­vices, med­ical care or roads, and girls weren’t per­mit­ted to attend school.

Today, through the work of NATO’s Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, Hel­mand has a net­work of paved roads that make a loop through the region and extend to the Iran­ian bor­der, allow­ing com­merce to thrive and mak­ing it hard­er for insur­gents to plant road­side bombs, they said.

Pop­pies — the root of the ille­gal hero­in trade — are being replaced with high-val­ue alfal­fa and oth­er crops, they said, and irri­ga­tion sys­tems are improv­ing agri­cul­ture.

Helmand’s res­i­dents are enjoy­ing a clos­er rela­tion­ship with the nation­al gov­ern­ment in Kab­ul, which has improved ser­vices and sent numer­ous judges, pros­e­cu­tors, teach­ers and oth­er pub­lic ser­vants to the province. There are now 133 schools in Hel­mand, the offi­cials said, and 20,000 of 90,000 stu­dents are girls, they said. Helmand’s elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives include 38 women.

“We’re in a bet­ter place today than we’ve ever been in,” Reid said.

As secu­ri­ty improves, they said, the empha­sis now is on train­ing and bring­ing in for­eign invest­ments. The World Bank, Unit­ed Nations, and Asia Devel­op­ment Bank were among the par­tic­i­pants in a recent inter­na­tion­al donors con­fer­ence, the offi­cials said, which includ­ed two days of sem­i­nars on invest­ment needs in con­struc­tion of dams, canals, roads and oth­er projects.

The Afghans also have made great strides toward self gov­er­nance, Reid said. “We’ve moved from doing these things for them to mak­ing it pos­si­ble for them to do it them­selves,” he said.

Per­haps the great­est threat to sus­tained progress in the area is gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, the pair said. “It’s def­i­nite­ly a seri­ous imped­i­ment to for­eign invest­ment,” Reid said, adding that he con­sid­ers it the biggest obsta­cle to pri­vate invest­ment in Afghanistan.

ISAF work­ers have been work­ing to reduce cor­rup­tion, but “ulti­mate­ly, it’s a cul­tur­al shift that will have to go on” as Afghans increas­ing­ly work with the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, Reid said.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment will make an impor­tant show­ing as the sole host of the upcom­ing 3rd Bonn Con­fer­ence on Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment Pol­i­cy in Ger­many, O’Neill said. The con­fer­ence, he said, will set the stage for oth­er major venues for poten­tial invest­ment in Afghanistan, such as the NATO sum­mit to be held in Chica­go in May.

“We look to this con­fer­ence to demon­strate, once again, how Afghanistan is tak­ing con­trol of its own des­tiny,” Reid said.

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