Over the last three months, a number of checkpoints in the Nad ‘Ali district, which were under the control of ISAF forces, have been handed over to Afghan control.
The increasing number of security checkpoints being manned by Afghans is a reflection of both the improving security situation on the ground and the increasing capability of the Afghan forces.
The latest handover comes just a couple of weeks before the process of transition will formally begin in Lashkar Gah, the district capital of Helmand province.
The city was chosen by President Hamid Karzai as one of the first places in the country where Afghan National Security Forces will take the lead for providing security from ISAF forces.
Whiskey Company, 45 Commando, have been working closely with their Afghan Uniformed Police colleagues since arriving in Nad ‘Ali (South) in April 2011. During that time they’ve conducted a number of joint patrols and operations, with the AUP taking the lead on more and more occasions.
Lieutenant Ed Williams Royal Marines said:
The last partnered operation we conducted was called TORA BASHA [Courageous Hawk] and this resulted in a number of successes, including the capture of key insurgent facilitators.
Lieutenant Williams and his Marines have been based at CP Meelet for the last three months. With the handover of command to the AUP, the security in the surrounding area will now be solely managed by the Afghans. Lieutenant Williams added:
Since we have been at CP Meelet we have seen the AUP’s ability develop significantly. They’ve worked hard to win over the confidence and trust of the locals here. Handing over the CP is a great result and I have no doubt the Afghans will carry on where we’ve left off.
CP Meelet is the second checkpoint that Whiskey Company has handed over in recent weeks. The Spartans’ Officer Commanding, Major Paul Maynard Royal Marines, said:
This has been a positive move forwards, and is a clear demonstration that the informal transition of security is well underway. The Afghan Police in this area have been impressive and they are more than ready to take greater control of security.
The local people were initially sad to see ISAF leaving the area but they have welcomed the AUP and are now looking forward to working together to maintain the current security.
Just a few kilometres away, also in Nad ‘Ali (South), the Royal Marines of 42 Commando are having similar success and, over the course of a month, have handed over three checkpoints to the AUP.
CP Shiran Jan Junction, which sits in between the protected communities of Chah-e Anjir and Naqilabad Kalay, is the third that the Afghans have taken sole control of.
Over recent years, the areas have benefited from considerable investment by ISAF development projects. The once lawless and barren villages have been transformed into commercial centres, which are now home to thriving and prosperous residents who have enjoyed a long period of peace and security.
The area around the CP is home to a number of industrious and entrepreneurial local elders who have worked very closely with ISAF.
Thanks to the mentoring of 42 Commando and the British forces who have served in Nad ‘Ali (South) before them, the AUP are now at a stage where they can provide security permanently to the population without the need for constant ISAF supervision.
Lance Corporal Stephen Hall, a rifleman in J Company who has been based in Shiran Jan Junction since arriving in Helmand in April 2011, said:
We’ve been patrolling this area for the past two months and there has been no violence at all in that time. The locals seem very friendly and have a strong community spirit which I think is tough enough to overpower any insurgent influence.
The AUP might find it daunting at first, but they’re as ready as they’re ever going to be, and I think that as they take more responsibility they will go on to improve further.
Once the Royal Marines from J Company were confident of the AUP’s ability, they passed responsibility for security onto them. One of the key elders in the area is Haji Misteri. He has facilitated engagement between the security forces and the local population. He said:
Although we are sad to see ISAF leave, we have a strong community and we will not let the Taliban back because we are better off without them.
The Marines from J Company have now moved to a new area further north where the insurgents still wield influence over the population. Marine Chris Roberts said:
I’m looking forward to moving to a new checkpoint; it will be a new challenge and hopefully we can continue the success we’ve had here in other parts of our area of operations.
The Commanding Officer in Nad ‘Ali (North), Lieutenant Colonel Ewen Murchison Royal Marines, is proud of what his forces and the Afghans have achieved:
The handover of Shiran Jan Junction is another key step forward in transferring lead security authority to the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF]. Not only does this send a powerful message to the insurgency, but it is also an achievement that every single local Afghan can draw confidence from.
They have bravely embraced the legitimate authority of the Afghan Government forces in the face of insurgent intimidation and violence. As a result they now have a community to be proud of, an effective indigenous police force, and the opportunity for a prosperous, peaceful future ahead of them.
The forces of Nad ‘Ali (North and South) hope to continue the informal transfer of power to the Afghans during the second half of their six-month tour so that when the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan decide that the district is ready for transition, like Lashkar Gah, the ANSF and the local people will be ready to formally take control.