More than a hundred local people attended a shura in the area of Loy Mandeh in Nad ‘Ali to discuss how to rebuild their livelihoods after British troops helped to liberate the area known as the ‘last ulcer’ in the protected community that has been created in central Helmand.
Loy Mandeh, which straddles the boundaries of three districts, has been home to insurgents who have threatened and intimidated the population, with the once bustling bazaar reduced to a deserted, barren wasteland.
At the end of May, Afghan National Army (ANA) warriors, supported by British Royal Marines and soldiers, launched an assault on the area to drive the insurgents out and restore security to the lives of the people of Loy Mandeh, Kopak and Malgir.
Operation OMID HAFT, which was planned and led by the ANA’s 3/215 Corps, with ISAF forces in support, not only succeeded in pushing back the insurgents, but also won over the people living in the area.
Earlier this week, just days after the start of the operation, more than a hundred key community figures and village elders attended a shura in the village of Loy Mandeh, hosted by the District Governor.
All the security was provided by the Afghan National Security Forces with members of the Police searching people on arrival and the Army providing a cordon around the shura.
At the meeting, held in the centre of the village, District Governor Habibullah spoke passionately and enthusiastically about his plans to redevelop the area and return it to its former state.
He encouraged locals to register shop ownership with the mayor and asked everyone to help do their part to restore prosperity to the previously ravaged village.
District Governor Habibullah’s key message to the group was clear:
The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan can provide for you where the Taliban have failed.
Lieutnenant Colonel Ewen Murchison, Commanding Officer of 42 Commando Royal Marines (42 Cdo RM), attended the shura to hear the locals’ response to the military action.
Lt Col Murchison said:
Many of the people here had been forced to flee from their homes up into the Bowri area to escape the insurgents. Their willingness to return to their village and so soon after it had been liberated and in such numbers is an encouraging sign that there is a genuinely strong appetite among the people for change.
It’s clear they all want to help so that business and commerce can return to Loy Mandeh in the near future. The presence of the Government of Afghanistan, supported by ISAF, has demonstrably improved the quality of their lives.
Work on the development projects discussed at the shura is already underway. Local contractors have been employed to start the clearance of the old, derelict shops.
Royal Engineers from the Counter-IED Task Force have cleared more than eighteen IEDs to ensure routes are safe for the passage of people, equipment and materials needed for the projects.
Tim Gurney is the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team’s Stabilisation Advisor to Combined Force Nad ‘Ali (North):
The shura in Loy Mandeh Kalay was a huge step forward,” he said. “With the recent removal of the Taliban, for the first time for some years District Governor Habibullah was able to visit and speak directly to the community and hear their concerns.
The District Governor offered the help and support of the Afghan Government in rebuilding the community and thanked ISAF for their support.
Leading Airman Dave Hillhouse is the 42 Cdo RM photographer who captured the historic moment:
It was amazing to see so many people turning up. We started off with about 50 locals, but half way through the shura several vehicles all turned up with around another 50 people who had come down from the Bowri area.
Everyone seemed very relaxed, and the ANA and ANP [Afghan National Police] seemed to be working with each other very effectively.