UK and Afghan forces, led by British troops from 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA), are helping reopen a bazaar of more than 100 shops in the Helmand town of Chah-e Anjir, once too dangerous for local trade due to the insurgent threat.
Seven months ago, soldiers of 3 PARA arrived in Helmand province for their third tour of Afghanistan.
In Chah-e Anjir, the largest town close to 3 PARA’s patrol base, the market had all but closed down because of the threat from insurgents.
Six months on, it’s a different story as the bazaar regularly comes to life after a joint investment project involving local businesses, the Afghan National Security Forces, and the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team helped to reopen the bazaar as a new business park - the Helmand equivalent of a shopping mall.
Village elder Sultan Muhammad says it was not always the case:
This used to be a thriving town, with a popular bazaar containing hundreds of shops. But it was destroyed by fighters.
Since September last year, 3 PARA have worked alongside their Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) colleagues to restore security in the town which is home to more than 4,000 people.
Lieutenant Colonel James Coates, Commanding Officer of 3 PARA, said:
Our main focus has been developing the Afghan security forces and what we have seen is enormous change.
The quantity and the standard of soldiers and police officers has increased significantly. Their capability has improved - they’re getting out into the town, interacting with the people, earning the trust and consent of those around them.
As a result, the insurgency completely moved out of the area and confidence among the local people has increased significantly both in the ANA and ANP.
I am particularly proud of what the whole battle group has achieved working with the Afghans.
While 3 PARA have been conducting joint patrols to improve security, members of the District Stabilisation Team have been working with the district government to help restore the bazaar to its former glory.
Major Craig Thomas, Officer Commanding of the Military Stabilisation and Support Team during HERRICK 13, said:
The local community is determined to capitialise on the change that’s happened here.
The district governor has led this initiative to make further improvements to the bazaar - it’s an example of local government delivering increased opportunities as a result of the improved security situation.
We estimate that over the coming months more than a hundred shops will have been renovated and open for business.
The village mayor says he is positive about the future:
With better security, people will come back, and when they do, they will buy things, the bazaar will thrive and that will benefit everyone here. ISAF have helped to make this happen.
In a few weeks, 3 PARA will complete their tour and hand over to 42 Commando Royal Marines whose job will be to build upon the successes of the last six months and oversee the completion of the bazaar.