HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Key leaders representing coalition forces, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Afghan people participated in the first regional security shura throughout Helmand province, Afghanistan, May 12-13.
The shura, facilitated by Regimental Combat Team 7, comes at a time critical to stimulating and stabilizing the economic efforts, by strengthening the security of the Helmand districts.
“What this shura allows us to do for the first time is bring the provinces together so these guys can talk about security issues related to their area of operations,” said Maj. Carlos T. Jackson, the future operations officer for RCT-7.
The foundations for district partnership in the Helmand River Valley were laid over the two days, allowing local district governors better use of assets around the province to move ahead in development of Afghanistan through security.
“When you bring these guys together it will allow them to open up that dialogue and really see how their districts work together,” said Jackson, from Detroit. “What we hope to accomplish out of this is a dialogue that lets the district governors know, and the people know, that they need to work together.”
Four security shuras were held over the two days to discuss those districts represented – Garmsir, Khaneshin, Marjah and Nawa. The district governors met with Afghan National Army and Marine generals at Camp Dwyer to brief them and discuss topics raised during the shuras on how to improve the economy and security in their districts. They each handle security in their own way based on the stage of development in their area.
The early stages of the shura consisted mostly of appeasing conversation about the districts, examples of what worked in each and the needs and security of the districts. John L. Gerlaugh, the governance advisor to Col. Randy Newman, RCT-7 commanding officer, attributes this to the culture and unfamiliarity of the district governors, although with time the governors became comfortable with one another and were able to tackle the issues at hand.
The district governors quickly realized that their districts affect one another and they have to work together to achieve security and progression. This point was driven home when Haji Abdul Manaf, the Nawa district governor, stated, “the long-term plan for Nawa security is improving the security in Marjah and Garmsir.”
The shared recognition that each district impacts its neighboring districts allowed them to move forward in conversation. The governors collectively recognized that engaging the population on all levels was critical toward GIRoA success, especially given the reported success of cash-for-work programs which seems to help keep Afghan youths away from Taliban influences.
“Security is defined by the perception of the population,” said Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, commanding officer, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. “Over the past 90 days the people have started to trust Marines in Marjah.”
Sharing of intelligence and information between districts was also discussed toward overall regional security of the Helmand River Valley. This was also tied into the mutual agreement for the need of standardized identification cards and vehicle registrations throughout the province.
Mohammad Fahim, Garmsir District governor, and Manaf both brought up weapons registration and their place in security for local leaders who may be targeted by the Taliban. This led into discussions about the possession of weapons by the population and who should be allowed to maintain a weapon in their home.
In Nawa, the house numbering system was discussed and adopted by the governors as a good way to identify houses, leading to faster emergency service response and development of a better census count. This will enable them to work with GIRoA to obtain more resources and funding for local development.
The subject of Marjah spearheaded the discussion of agriculture and the effectiveness of programs to reduce the amount of poppy in each district. Talking to coalition commanders enabled the governors to see the adverse affects of poppy production on their security and progress.
The people of Khaneshin and their district governor, Masoud Ahmad, have been working with 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion over the past few months and are transitioning to working with 1st LAR over the coming months. Police retention has been an issue in the district. It is also the only of the four districts that has a border police. The district has made progress toward development, but still has more projects in the works, to include their new district center and shura hall. The region is a common location for Taliban operation given its more open area.
Nawa District is heralded as a success story for coalition and Afghan forces. Nawa is where 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment pushed the Taliban out and helped begin the rebuilding process in the summer of 2009. Elements of RCT-7 worked and continue to work alongside their Afghan National Army counterparts to provide the security for economic security in the district. Nawa has seen tremendous progress in both local reconstruction efforts and agricultural advances with an agriculture college in progress.
Garmsir, which saw the transition of power to GIRoA in 2008, has seen the positive effects of partnership endeavors of ANA forces with 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment and elements of civil affairs groups over the past seven months. Within the last month, the district has welcomed the youngest district governor to date, and the arrival of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. A hospital and schools have been established in the district.
With Mohammed Fahim, the new district governor, and coalition elements working together, the positive progress in Garmsir continues to spread. Fahim said that they are using social and government law to win the people over to the government and show that it works in that region.
Marjah District, with less than 100 days since Marines arrived to work toward the removal of the Taliban, is the newest local government and has the least developed security infrastructure. Afghan forces and local government are still working with Marines to build up local security. The improvised explosive device threat and small-arms fire still threaten coalition forces. Still, they have made progress in agricultural and are continuing to work toward stability of the district. Their district governor is Haji Zahir who is still working to win the trust of the people in his district and secure their confidence.
The shura concluded with briefs to the commanding generals of the coalition forces allowing both sides to sit down together and discuss the needs and expectations of the districts and how to move forward. Part of this process will include future regional shuras and the continued forward momentum and important dialogue between local leaders in which it facilitates.