The announcement from ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, confirms that the present Regional Command (South) will be split into two new headquarters.
A new Regional Command (South West), based in Helmand, will oversee Helmand and Nimruz provinces; while the existing Regional Command (South), headquartered in Kandahar, will continue to control ISAF forces in Kandahar, Daykundi, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces.
This change, which is based on the military advice of ISAF commanders on the ground, reflects a number of significant changes over recent months and was welcomed today by the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox.
The recent changes on the ground include a large increase in the number of ISAF troops in southern Afghanistan - up from 35,000 in October 2009 to over 50,000 by this summer - and a greater complexity in the conduct of operations, with major ongoing security efforts in Kandahar and central Helmand.
The new command structure will also enable a better alignment with Afghan National Army units, with 205 Corps continuing to work with Regional Command (South) [RC(S)] and 215 Corps partnered with the new Regional Command (South West).
The decision to divide responsibility between the two headquarters will help provide the best focus of command support for ISAF forces across the region.
Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, said:
I welcome these changes to the command and control of our forces in Afghanistan which are based on sound military rationale and are in the interests of the overall coalition strategy and mission.
Through their sheer professionalism, bravery and sacrifice, British forces have made real progress in Helmand. They will continue to do so working alongside Afghan, American and other ISAF partners making up an international effort of more than 45 nations.
Major General Gordon Messenger, the Chief of the Defence Staff’s Strategic Communications Officer, said:
This command and control change makes complete sense and is welcome. The span and complexity of the command challenge in southern Afghanistan has increased enormously in recent months and these changes provide the best command support to the troops on the ground.
The change will also align the ISAF military structure in the south with the structure of the Afghan National Army, enabling a greater partnering capacity between ISAF and Afghan forces.
The UK has been closely involved in the preparations for this change and entirely agrees with its rationale. We are well accustomed to operating within a multinational coalition command structure and are entirely content that the best interests of the UK force will be maintained under the new arrangements.
Looking to the future, Regional Command (South West) will operate under a rotational command, agreed in principle to be shared between US and UK forces. The first commander will be Major General Richard Mills of the US Marine Corps (USMC).
As part of the new arrangements, command and control boundaries will change within Helmand province.
Following the split, Task Force Helmand (TFH) will come under the command of the US Marine Corps’ 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (1 MEF), under Major General Mills. TFH will retain responsibility for central Helmand.
Major General Richard Mills, Commanding General of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), said:
Regional Command (South West) will ensure that ISAF and Afghan forces in Helmand and Nimruz provinces achieve the objectives of Operation MOSHTARAK, which are intended to assert the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s presence in the region.
Since taking command six weeks ago I have been hugely impressed by the momentum and achievements of RC(S) under General Carter.
My predecessors in the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the British troops of Task Force Helmand have distinguished themselves in the service of the Afghan people. Real progress is being made.
“This will be the first time that the USMC has led an ISAF Regional Command. The British officers in my coalition headquarters and Task Force Helmand bring invaluable experience and knowledge. We are partnered with ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] at all levels and conducting joint operations throughout Helmand province.
While tough fighting remains, I see evidence daily of progress that will bring about lasting stability across southern Afghanistan.
This will be a significant year for the future of Afghanistan. Coalition forces, alongside our Afghan counterparts, will continue to support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as it delivers legitimate governance, improved security and lasting economic development.
Additionally, under the changes, the command of the 1,100-strong British Battle Group based in Sangin and Kajaki will transfer from Task Force Helmand to the US-led Regimental Combat Team (North), which is taking on responsibility for the north of the province.
In common with the other changes to ISAF’s command structures, this transfer of command will take effect on 1 June 2010 and is intended to optimise the command support available to the troops on the ground in light of the increased number of ISAF troops and other operational assets.
ISAF intends for Regional Command (South West) to become fully operational later this summer. In order to ease the transition, there will be an interim phase where 1 MEF will take responsibility for Helmand and Nimruz but will continue to work to Regional Command (South). This arrangement is planned to run from 1 June.
The UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand will work closely with the headquarters of Regional Command (South West) and will continue its vital role in delivering governance and socio-economic development in the province.
UK forces are committed to their enduring deployment to central Helmand and there are no plans to deploy UK forces from Helmand to anywhere else.