Foreign Office Minister for Afghanistan, Alistair Burt and Governor of Helmand Province, Gulabuddin Mangal hosted a media discussion on security and governance in Afghanistan.
Governor Mangal (through a Translator): Good afternoon to all of you and welcome. I am glad to be around the table with you. I’m proud to be the Governor of the province, the province of Southern Afghanistan.
I have been the Governor of Helmand Province since May 2008 and I’ve been serving the province since then. I can fill it much better than anybody else, I have been appointed as the Governor about two and a half years ago and what was the situation then about two years ago. I will be able to give you examples and I will be able to outline a lot of the things to you as Governor of Helmand Province. But it is very unfortunate that the achievements that, that we have made in Helmand Province, it’s not seen and it’s not reported by the media. And I will be able, I will be able and be in a position to tell you and to give you the true picture of Helmand Province and what we have achieved, what we have achieved together and what we have done so far.
About two years ago out of thirteen districts in Helmand Province only six were under the state control and when I say six under the state control only six towns or districts were under the state control among the districts as a whole. But now the situation, the situation is different. Now we have got greater presence in (indistinct). When I say districts I mean of course districts and the villages in each district. There is a freedom of movement between districts and between villages in the areas that are controlled by us, most, and most of the districts, and not just the ordinary people are able to travel from one district to another district, but also the civil servants as well.
And of course in addition to having presence in the area we’ve got local governance and local government in, in the areas and they are there to provide all the necessary support and services that the public should have. And areas that are controlled by us, and we have got now law and order in areas and we have got strengthened law and order in the areas, and so we have got a greater presence there.
Narcotics was one of the main issues in Helmand about two, two and a half years ago and now we managed to reduce the cultivation of drugs by almost half. Since everybody knows that between 2005 and 2008 the, the cultivation was going up and only in 2009 we had, we managed to decrease the per centage of, of cultivation of poppy by thirty three point seven per cent. So the more we have got security, the more we manage to gain the, the, reduce the cultivation of drugs. Reduction of cultivation means a direct influence in the security as well.
Of course we, on the development side we’ve managed to achieve a lot as well. We’ve got in Kajaki the power of the dam, the Kajaki Dam as well. So we double the power that we have in the, the Kajaki area. We’ve got now (indistinct) built in the Lashkar Gah. We have got a (indistinct) on the agricultural side and irrigations we have achieved a lot. And on the education side we managed to gain about three to four times more than what we had in the past.
Tom Coghlan (The Times): Tom Coghlan from the Times. If NATO forces left tomorrow, how long would Afghan forces be able to hold Helmand and Kandahar?
Governor Mangal: We’ve no doubt we are not in a position to say and declare that, we will be able to have (indistinct) in the past. But we are working very hard to complete the transition process and we are working hard to train the Afghan National Security Forces. We’ve got to train them accordingly in order for us to be able to, to meet the deadline and to be able to take responsibility.
According to our one year plan we will be able to have the lead response, take responsibility of key areas over the next year …
TC: Can you say which areas?
GM: It’ll be, we will need to have time to take responsibility for the whole province.
TC: So which, which areas would, would be (indistinct)?
GM: later on.
Richard Norton-Taylor (The Guardian): Governor, you talked about deadlines just now, I think it was about the deadlines. How confident are you that British and American forces will be able to reduce their numbers in Helmand by the summer say of next year, and how confident are you that, that we’ll be able to reduce combat troops altogether by 2015?
Governor Mangal: I think we will be able to, to meet the deadline provided that the Afghan National Security Forces are trained, as we are training them right now, I mean at the speed we are training them right now we will be able to achieve the, and meet the deadline. And in addition to this of course it also depends on the international communities’ promises and commitment, the promises of training our national security forces, equipping them and, and also training the trainers.
Raymond Lloyd (Editor, The Parity Democrat): Raymond Lloyd, Editor of the Parity Democrat. In the ten provinces, Helmand provinces, under government control, how many girls are now going to school, how many boys, and what is the size of the school age population? And have there been any physical attacks recently in, on women teachers, women aid workers or other women professionals?
GM: On the education side a year and a half ago we had only fifty, fifty four schools operating with fifty six thousand pupils. And now we have got an increasing the number of schools operating in the areas to one hundred and thirty five with one hundred and forty thousand pupils attending schools, which means that about twenty five or twenty eight per cent of the per centage of the number are girls. We want to provide more opportunities for the girls at district level to study. In, in areas and districts where girls are unable to attend schools then we have got campuses being prepared for about two thousand girls and these campuses were built by the country of Denmark, so there are opportunities for girls to attend in Lashkar Gah area.
Last year, last year unfortunately yes, in Gereshk area, in Gereshk District, there were some teachers, school teachers, who were attacked, but all this year, this year we, fortunately we didn’t have anything.
Unidentified Journalist: Can you speak a bit of the reconciliation process with the head of tribes and the Taliban in the province? And do you think that, find that the NATO ISAF forces are there is a negative (indistinct)? Because a lot of people are doubting their presence.
GM: As you might be well aware His Excellency and my President Hamid Karzai called a High Peace Council in Kabul, I mean High Peace Council was announced in Kabul, which will be dealing with the reconciliation process, and we will be having the (indistinct) at provincial level and a district level as well. So we are working on these councils that will be available at provincial as well as at district level.
On the reconciliation stroke reintegration process of course at provincial level we have been working very hard and quite closely with our international partners. Of course they are assisting us with the financing and the technical assistance, they are providing technical and finance (indistinct) in order to complete this process. So the committee is working quite hard at provincial level now to, it’s not only about reconciling some of the people, it’s about educating some of the insurgents as well, providing them with vocational training, job opportunities. So there’s (indistinct) and also educating them as well. So, so this all, all involves in the process is not just you can sign there and (indistinct).
Unidentified Journalist (ABC News): Mr Governor, (indistinct) with ABC News. The last, I saw you in Marjah in June. Very good to see you here (indistinct). When, when I’m there it’s always easy to see how it could work locally because there are pockets of great calm throughout Helmand Province.
But in those same areas it can turn very quickly violent. Everybody wants the Brits and the Americans to leave. How, how would you describe the, the size and the intensity of the insurgency in Helmand today after, after a year of this massive build up there?
GM: You have mentioned Operation Moshtarak and even my, even close friends were seeing was that probably we would not be able to achieve what we were aiming in Marjah area as well as in Nad Ali area. During this, the operations of course we are not just fighting on one front line, we are fighting the insurgents and the threat was always the resistance of the insurgents to what extent they will resist us. So we have, we have to take this in to account.
But in addition to these facts and these measures being taken in to account we have to also find a (indistinct) and to what extent we will think that okay, if we will go in to there what will be the impact of thepowers in (indistinct). So we had to fight two fronts which, with two, with two groups and so that’s what we have done and of course (indistinct) which is not (indistinct) being involved hoping that in the (indistinct).
Of course we have concerns of a (indistinct) and other concerns we have, but we managed to reduce the concerns that we have. In Marjah area as well as in other areas as well, so we managed to defeat some of them.
So in the central area, in central Helmand and in the South, (indistinct) insurgents are not able even to have ten to fifteen people in their group so that, this means that they were defeated, so they don’t even have fifteen people to run. And the reason behind this is that efficient operations conducted by the ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces targeting the key leaders of five and ten people, I mean key leaders who run between five and ten people in areas. I mean that is probably what the, it is difficult to find leaders who have ten people running after them. So they’ll be targeted and they will target (indistinct).
Areas that I have mentioned the, the, they cannot resist any more and we have defeated them. So they, they no longer can basically regroup and have people to fight us. And areas I think in the northern areas of Helmand Province like in Kajaki, Sangin and Musa Qala they may have some people, they may have groups who will be able to resist to an extent, but areas of (indistinct).
Therefore I have called us, I have called a, called on the members of our administration and district governors and others not to travel, not to use air transportation to these five districts that I have mentioned earlier on. So they should be travelling by roads because that, the security is there. So from, from last week on they’re, they are no longer travelling to these districts by helicopters and by other air transport (indistinct) transportation.
Ashish Ray (Times of India): Ashish Ray of the Times of India. I was wondering how you saw the involvements of India and Pakistan in the normalisation process of Afghanistan helpful or unhelpful?
GM: I am the Governor of a province, I am not the Governor of the country. I think it’s, this question is above, above my level, but I will try my best to answer it in (indistinct) and it’s above my responsibility as well.
India, India was a traditional friend to Afghanistan, to (indistinct) for tradition to be (indistinct) we have been friends for years. Of course Pakistan is Afghanistan’s neighbouring country and throughout history we have in our relation up and downs. Traditionally India was our neighbouring country. (Indistinct) of course the stabilisation in Afghanistan is the best interest and best national interest of Pakistan as well. Pakistan and India, they both can play a crucial role in the supervision of Afghanistan for (indistinct) good intentions on (indistinct).
Ian Drury (Daily Mail): Ian Drury, Daily Mail. What would you, what would your message be to the members of the British public who are so concerned by the number of troops being killed and injured that we should, they believe we should withdraw now? And have you got a message, what would you say to the families of Servicemen who’ve been killed and injured in the conflict?
GM: Of course the sacrifices of the international community in Afghanistan is not for nothing. It, it, it’s being there for something, we have achieved a lot. And I (indistinct) I share the pain of the families who have gone through the pain that (indistinct) their loved ones were killed in Afghanistan. So, but it was for something, for the stabilisation of a particular country and of course your country as well.
As a father I, I can feel it, how difficult it must be, it will be basically for a family or for a father or mother to hear when their son or daughter has been killed. Of course the sacrifices that we are having or the sacrifice that we gave in Afghanistan in return became the lot, in return came a lot of, for what we have lost. And I need to remind you that security in Afghanistan means security in the West and in the UK, so we have got a shared common enemy. Afghan people will never be able to be in a position to forget and Afghan history, the will always remember these people (indistinct).
I will be visiting tomorrow the National Memorial to pay my tribute to all those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan. And I specifically requested to meet a family, a family who have lost their loved one in Afghanistan.
Jonathan Steele (The Guardian): Yes, Jonathan Steele from the Guardian. At the beginning of last year you were quite critical of the way British forces operated including places like Sangin, saying they didn’t engage sufficiently with ordinary people and you said the American tactics were much better. Have you noticed any improvement over the last year and a half in the way the British (indistinct)?
GM: I think I’ve never said that the British forces have (indistinct) tactics in Afghanistan or they were not fighting properly and that all the others were doing a very good job. I admire the work that the British forces or the British Government have done in Afghanistan. It’s noted by me and it will be noted by all of us, and the sacrifices and the bloods that were dropped and the, in Afghanistan is all (indistinct).
But of course we’ve no doubt we, we have to admit that by having the Marines, the Marines from United States, we, I think we have got improved security now in some areas. (Indistinct) controls of areas that were taken over by the Marines, of course we managed to get a lot in return and we’ve got a greater security in those areas (indistinct).
Of course you, you know this as well as I do, when you are fighting a, a tactical level of course there are differences, and you have to have differences and (indistinct) another, and not every country will have the finance, not every country will have the logistics and equipment as American troops. There are other countries, there are countries that will have less than (indistinct) there are countries that will have more. So we need to bear in mind and have the object (indistinct) these things (indistinct). Of course weaponry and finance and, and logistics and other resources that are available to one country may not be available to another country, so we need to take this in to account.
Unidentified Journalist (Reuters): (Indistinct) from Reuters. Do you believe that a national peace settlement between the Afghan Government and the Taliban is possible?
GM: Can you repeat the question?
Unidentified Journalist: Do you believe that a peace settlement between the Government and the Taliban is possible?
GM: There is nothing that is impossible; everything is possible. But my personal opinion is if you have military pressure at the same time to have reconciliation (indistinct), and in Afghanistan particularly you have (indistinct). Of course we have to continue with military pressure but we have got (indistinct) against our opposition and at the same time we need to be open when it comes to the reconciliation process. Those who are willing to reconcile (indistinct) and those who are willing to fight us, we will have to fight them to (indistinct).
Unidentified Speaker (National Institute of Strategic Studies): NATO’s policy of (indistinct) restraint, has it succeeded in reducing civilian casualties and collateral damage in Helmand (indistinct)? Sorry (indistinct) Barry from the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
GM: (Indistinct) NATO’s policy is to prevent civilian casualties that, and this is the case that when you’re fighting and when the opposition is fighting from residential area I think it’s, it’s a little bit impossible to prevent civilian casualties. Insurgents are using residential areas, residential homes (indistinct) to fire at you (indistinct) and this increases the number of (indistinct). Part of the transition process is to patrol (indistinct) and the forces from residential areas and to hand over that security to the Afghan National Police, but this takes time and they need to be trained accordingly in, in order to take responsibility.
Civilian casualties on the (indistinct) and (indistinct) are not acceptable (indistinct) preventing the casualties. It is not acceptable and (indistinct), but sometimes it’s impossible.
Alistair Burt: Can I close by thinking you all very much for, for attending and particularly for Governor Mangal spending some time with us.
I’ve noticed a series of, of very open and realistic responses to a series of questions. I’ve noticed him describe progress from schools to security and also in response to an entirely appropriate question, a sensitivity to the extraordinary sacrifices that have been made in, in Helmand and an appreciation as a father of the grief that affects those families who have been hit by tragedy as a result of our forces’ work there.
So I hope you will continue to wish Governor Mangal well in his difficult task and I’m quite sure he will be open to be speaking to you at some stage in the future but, thank you all very much for your perceptive questions and your time with us.
GM: First I would like to thank Minister Burt as well and my comrades, my comrade Major General Gordon Messenger who worked with me in Helmand Province not, not long ago. And I’d like to say (indistinct) my last words.
Two and a half years ago when I took the, when I was as appointed as the Governor of Helmand Province and insurgents were based only two kilometres away from my residence and my office. Artillery were fired at my residence and I could see from the roof of my office, I could see the poppy, the flowers of poppy. I have managed to travel as far as one hundred and fifty kilometres away from my office and residence, I have not seen any poppy cultivation.
Police, police were part of the corruption, other criminality, kidnapping and other illegal stuff about two and a half years ago, but now they’re obeying the law, they are part of the law, so they are being well trained. About two, two and a half years ago police would stop and search someone and then this individual vanish on the highway. And about a week ago one of the vehicles full of pomegranates was stopped by police and four, four pomegranates were taken by a police soldier and I launched an investigation, I said these, listen these are, must be brought before justice. These are just two examples and compare (indistinct).