Until early 2009, the area around Zarghun Kalay was under the firm control of insurgents. That was until they were pushed back by British forces during a major operation. Since then, ISAF and Afghan forces have been providing security from various bases and checkpoints dotted around the villages of Zarghun Kalay and Loy Bagh.
For the last six months, the Royal Marines of Whiskey Company, 45 Commando, have been responsible for the area. Working alongside the Afghan Uniform Police (AUP), they have seen a marked improvement in the security situation.
A large part of that is down to the AUP who, under the guidance of the Royal Marines, have grown in both confidence and capability and are now increasingly providing security themselves.
Since the beginning of Operation HERRICK 14, Whiskey Company has transferred four checkpoints (CPs) to the AUP and now occupies only a third of the CPs they inherited in April 2011.
With Afghans increasingly taking the lead, the Royal Marines have turned their attention to supporting the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in other ways, such as civic pride and sporting initiatives.
During a recent shura (meeting) held by locals, elders asked whether a piece of land in the middle of the village of Zarghun Kalay, which has been derelict since the insurgents left, could be put to better use. After much discussion, it was decided to turn the land into a football pitch and a match was organised to mark its official opening.
A local engineering company was tasked with landscaping the ground and goal posts were constructed in a nearby patrol base with a bit of help from the Marines. Once in place, the locals set about installing the nets and marking out the pitch.
Gunner Nick Halden-Even, Royal Artillery, said:
We took a back seat on this initiative and allowed the local people to do as much as they could without our assistance. It’s happened because of the obvious pride they have in their villages and the fact that they feel safe. It has been great to see this project develop and it makes me feel that we have really helped to make a difference.
Inspired by their favourite European football teams, players from Zarghun Kalay wore the blue of Chelsea and their opponents from the village of Loy Bagh wore Barcelona’s colours. People of all ages came to watch the derby in which Zarghun Kalay triumphed with a three-one win over Loy Bagh.
Captain Ed Williams, Royal Marines, said:
We have hardly any ISAF forces here today as the Afghan Uniform Police are leading on security. The fact that this has been an Afghan-led venture from the outset makes a big difference in the eyes of the people. The match was great and everyone had a fun time.
Sergeant Bonita Dacre, Royal Logistic Corps, says the match is yet another example of how life in this part of Nad ‘Ali is returning to normal:
It’s really brought the community closer together and there are other ongoing projects in this village,” he said. “On the other side of the town is Zarghun Kalay School - this was destroyed by the Taliban but is now being rebuilt by the local government. There is a real sense of progress here at the moment and it is being driven by the Afghans themselves.