Commander of the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF’s) Regional Command South in Afghanistan, Major General Carter spoke via a live satellite link from Afghanistan to members of the media today, Thursday 13 May 2010, to give an update on the current situation faced by ISAF troops in Helmand province, particularly in the areas of Marjah and Nad ‘Ali.
Major General Carter said that ISAF forces have created a strong security presence throughout Marjah, in the south of Helmand, as well as building security in the district centre.
However, he advised that there is still progress to be made in achieving Operation MOSHTARAK’s objectives to assert the Afghan Government’s authority in the region.
He said that while security in the district centre of Marjah is positive, the District Governor has not yet been able to reach out to all parts of Marjah. He said the insurgency is still present in the outlying areas of the region where intimidation means the population is too frightened to come forward with elders for shuras and indeed move freely into the district centre.
However, Major General Carter was optimistic that the local people would soon realise that ISAF forces are there to help, saying:
My guess is it will take another 90 days or so before the population will begin to realise that the security presence is there to stay and that it is in their interests to be with their government rather than the insurgency.
I would judge success on the extent to which the queue of locals outside the District Governor’s district centre increases, and at the moment there are 200 people a day, and what we’re looking for is for people to come from all parts of Marjah to have their issues dealt with.
Another sign that the local population has yet to rally against the insurgency is that, of 1,000 water pumps that are available, only 86 have been taken up by the local community.
Major General Carter believes that when the one thousand pumps have been distributed, he can be sure that intimidation has been eradicated, but that it will take a while to come.
ISAF forces moved into Nad ‘Ali 15 months before Op MOSHTARAK began and, judging by the progress which has already been made there, Major General Carter believes that it can be used as a benchmark for the success expected to come in Marjah.
Major General Carter said:
In Nad ‘Ali, the find-to-strike ratio of IEDs is very low, on the basis of six found to every one that strikes. There have been only nine IED incidents since we launched Operation MOSHTARAK back on the 13th of February - only nine.
When you consider that the Grenadier Guards Battle Group in Nad ‘Ali before Christmas was confronting around 40 direct fire incidents every week, we have less than five-a-week since MOSHTARAK was mounted in Nad ‘Ali as a whole.
Another sign of the success in Nad ‘Ali came on Tuesday this week when over 600 community elders travelled into the district centre to cast their votes in a secret ballot at the District Governor’s compound to decide the 45 members of the Nad ‘Ali District Community Council.
This year’s pre-election shuras, held throughout the Nad ‘Ali district, were attended by approximately 3,600 local people. See Related News.
Major General Carter said:
The population now has a stake in its community and it is now prepared to refute the insurgency in a way which has not been the case elsewhere in the northern and southern province.
Another mark of success in Nad ‘Ali is that Governor Mangal can now confidently move around the area without helicopters or support from the coalition, which he was unable to do four months ago.
Major General Carter added:
There’s still a good deal of work to do, but the trends are positive and my sense is that we’re in a good place in terms of the resources available on the ground and the way in which things are progressing.