News story

Royal Marine witnesses progress in Sangin

Captain Adams is serving with 40 Commando Royal Marines in the Sangin district centre. He was last in the town in 2005 serving with the Mobile…

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

Captain Adams is serving with 40 Commando Royal Marines in the Sangin district centre.

He was last in the town in 2005 serving with the Mobile Air Operations Team, part of Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan).

Since that time the efforts of British troops have made the district centre a much safer place for the locals and ISAF forces.

But improvements in the area are also due to the work of the Stabilisation Unit, co-owned by the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, which has been at the heart of a civilian surge in Sangin since 2008.

Describing improvements to security in the district centre, Captain Adams said:

In 2005 the security outside of the FOB [Forward Operating Base] was practically none. Ourselves as soldiers, we couldn’t go outside the FOB for fear of being attacked and occasionally we were attacked inside the FOB.

But since then, due to the progress that we’ve made, we’ve managed to push the bubble of security out from this location and beyond the centre of Sangin itself.

When Captain Adams was first in Sangin, Forward Operating Base Jackson came under sustained attack from insurgents operating within the district centre.

Now, the weapons on the tower of the Fire Support Group (FSG) building which protects the base are largely silent:

I was here attached to the Light Infantry, and they were essentially defending themselves,” said Captain Adams. “They weren’t really able to push forward outside of the FOB… Now the local community have the freedom to have what is a normal life, which is essentially what everyone wants anyway.

They can go shopping and move around free from intimidation from the Taliban because of the security provided by the Afghan and ISAF forces.

An example of this development is the Helmand River crossing which can be seen from the FSG tower. Before, it used to be a rickety bridge that frequently got washed away.

Now, there is a ferry crossing and and an Afghan police security checkpoint providing access into the town.

Captain Adams commented:

There used to be a river crossing with one or two boats. It was quite restricted because the Taliban and other insurgent groups would dominate in the area, but now that the Afghan and the ISAF security forces have provided protection, the locals can come and go as they please and there is a lot more activity at the crossing point.

The stabilisation force is the main effort really. They’re the people who are going to bring governance to this area, whilst we the soldiers provide the security for them to do it.

Amongst those delivering the civilian stabilisation effort is Andy Corcoran, who deployed to Sangin as a district political officer in October 2008. His civilian role was a critically important piece in the overall jigsaw, helping military commanders to understand the local political situation.

Tangible progress with new schools and health clinics and bazaars reopening is the most obvious evidence of improvement said Mr Corcoran.

Yet equally important to long-term success is the intangible progress implicit in establishing who the key figures within the local community are, developing relationships with them, building a picture of the community’s needs and understanding what it would take to move them away from the Taliban to support the local government.

The Kabul Government also played a significant role in Sangin’s emergence from crisis. Nick Pounds, a stabilisation advisor who deployed to Sangin in July 2008, said:

We got a minister to visit Sangin to open government offices, the school and the clinic.

It was the first time an Afghan minister had been seen in Sangin - probably since the king died. It was really good for him and good for the people of Sangin.

During Mr Pounds’s period in Sangin, providing security to allow the people to engage with the local government and go about their daily lives with confidence was the highest priority, and he helped develop a a joint civil-military stabilisation plan creating three security zones with a combined area of approximately eight square kilometres.

At the heart of Sangin was the secure governance zone, home to the school, government agencies and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations). Next came the economic zone, consisting of the bazaar and its immediate environs. The last of the three areas, moving out from the town centre, were the four focus zones based around Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol bases:

In terms of effect, it was a success,” said Mr Pounds. “We secured the area we set out to secure. We provided security in the governance zone, protection in the economic zone and established an ANA presence in the focus zones.

Stabilisation depends on a permissive security situation. With this achieved, commercial activity could resume. The bazaar started to thrive, boosted by a grants scheme to encourage shopkeepers to reopen their stalls, linked to the regional governor’s seed distribution programme. Very quickly 120 shops reopened:

By the time I left, the bazaar contained 700 to 800 shops selling everything from cars and mobile phones to grain and satellite dishes,” Mr Pounds said.

Phil Weatherill, a civil engineer who deployed to Sangin as a stabilisation advisor in October last year, said:

Economically and socially the lives of Afghans here are changing for the better on a monthly basis; it has taken a long time to get to this state and there have been, and will continue to be, challenges along the way but I honestly believe that slowly the people of Sangin are beginning to be won over.

Development continues apace, providing a stark contrast to Taliban-controlled areas. The District Development Agency has completed more than 70 projects in the last six months. Health and education have both benefited dramatically.

The Government has opened 45 community schools and four national Government schools. There are now five free Government health facilities as well as numerous private clinics.

The Royal Marines from 40 Commando will continue to help improve the security situation in and around Sangin, allowing the development of stabilisation efforts, until the end of their deployment in October 2010.

The Marines are currently working with American forces who will take over the provision of security in Sangin when the Marines depart.

The UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand and stabilisation advisors will continue their vital role of delivering governance and socio-economic development in the area.

Published 27 July 2010