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Governor Mangal reports on progress in Helmand

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speaking to journalists during a visit to London, Mr Mangal, who has been Helmand governor since May 2008, spoke of his pride in the position…

Speaking to journalists during a visit to London, Mr Mangal, who has been Helmand governor since May 2008, spoke of his pride in the position, but joked that many would know it as the ‘insecure province of Afghanistan’.

He therefore began by stressing just how much progress ISAF and Afghan forces had achieved in securing the province over the last 24 months and diminishing the influence of insurgents.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Mangal said:

About two years ago out of 13 districts in Helmand Province only six were under Government control - and when I say six, I mean only six towns or districts were under state control.

But now the situation is different, now we have got greater presence is ten districts - and when I say districts I of course mean districts and villages. There is a freedom of movement between districts and between villages and most of the areas controlled by us, and not just ordinary people are able to travel from one district to another but also civil servants as well.

Mr Mangal added that it was not just security forces now operating in these areas but local governance was also functioning in these areas to provide all the necessary support and services that the public in Afghanistan should have. He also stressed that there had been real gains in law and order in the areas now under government control.

The insurgency in Helmand is strengthened and financed by the opium trade and Mr Mangal said when he took office two years ago narcotics was one of the main issues facing him but efforts in Helmand had managed to reduce cultivation of the crop by about half:

Everybody knows that between 2005 and 2008 the cultivation was going up and only in 2009 we managed to decrease the percentage of the cultivation of poppies by 33.7 percent. So the more we have security the more we have managed to reduce the cultivation of the crop.

The reduction in cultivation means more influence over security as well.

Mr Mangal said that there had also been great achievements in development as well and highlighted the Kajaki Dam project - which UK forces helped deliver in 2008 - and said that the power it was now delivering to the Kajaki area was making a real difference, doubling the power generation in the area.

Other examples of development highlighted by Mr Mangal included the new civilian airport in Lashkar Gah and improved irrigation.

In terms of education delivery he said that provision had increased in the order of three to four times than seen in the past. Specifically, he said that 18 months ago there were 54 schools in the province serving 56,000 students but this has now increased to 135 schools with 140,000 students and 25-28 percent of those students being female, adding that there were plans to increase education opportunities for girls at district level.

Summing up the achievements of the international effort in Afghanistan over the last two and a half years Mr Mangal said that when he first entered the governor’s building in 2008 insurgents were based just 2km away and artillery was often fired at his residence. He also said that fields of opium poppies could be seen from the roof - but now he has travelled 150km from his office and seen no poppy cultivation.

Clearly none of this progress would be achievable without the space provided by security forces - both ISAF and Afghan - and asked how long the province could be held by Afghan forces alone if ISAF forces were to withdraw tomorrow Mr Mangal gave the honest assessment that Afghan Forces are not yet ready to take complete control of security - but that progress towards this aim was being made:

We are in no doubt that we are not yet in a position to say that we will be able to have greater security without the presence of ISAF and NATO in the province,” Mr Mangal said.

But we are working very hard on the transition process and we are working very hard to train the Afghan security forces and train them accordingly so we are able to meet the deadline and take responsibility for security.

According to our one year plan we will be able to take responsibility for security for a few areas over the next year… although we will need to have time to take responsibility for the whole province.

Governor Mangal said he was confident the deadline for beginning to withdraw British combat troops by the summer of 2015 would be achieved as long as current training levels are maintained - but that this relied on the continuing commitment of the international community.

British troops have been at the forefront of the security effort in Helmand since 2006 and Mr Mangal said that the cost expended on the province had not been in vain, progress had been made and British troops were improving security not only in Afghanistan but as a result in the UK as well.

He also said that as a father himself he could understand the pain and suffering of the families of those who had lost loved ones in Helmand:

Of course the sacrifice that you have made here in Afghanistan we have gained a lot… but I need to remind you that security in Afghanistan also means security in the west and UK, so we have a shared common aim.

Afghan people will never be in a position to forget and Afghan history will always remember the people that have fought.

To mark his appreciation for the commitment of UK forces Mr Mangal said that he would be visiting the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire during his time in the UK and would be meeting the family of a fallen UK serviceman to speak to them personally.