CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - The commander of Regional Command Southwest held a farewell dinner at the Afghan Cultural Center here, Feb. 24.
Major Gen. Charles M. Gurganus hosted more than 60 distinguished guests including Coalition and Afghan National Security Force as well as Afghan and civilian officials from both Nimroz and Helmand provinces during the dinner.
Major Gen. Gurganus will relinquish command of RC (SW) to Maj. Gen. W. Lee Miller, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) commanding general, during a transfer of authority ceremony this week.
Major Gen. Gurganus, speaking to his guests, reflected on this past year, highlighting the advances Coalition forces and ANSF have made.
“The list of successes goes on for the things we got to witness during the past year,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of (Coalition) and Afghan forces.”
“Sadly, we will end the tour with 67 (Coalition deaths). But, those numbers pale in comparison to the numbers of Afghans lost,” said Maj. Gen. Gurganus.
Key security improvements to both Helmand and Nimroz provinces led to more schools opening and Afghans going to bazaars, thus improving both provinces’ education and economic growth.
Directing his comments toward Afghan leaders, Maj. Gen. Gurganus said, “I ask only one thing, continue the same commitment and courage because we will know none of those (deaths) were in vain.”
Muhammad Sawar Sabet, the Nimroz provincial governor, said it’s “our time to stand up and take our country back.”
The ANSF has had complete security of Nimroz province since late 2011.
Noting Afghanistan looks completely different today than it did 11 years ago, the governor vowed to continue the fight against the insurgency.
Major Gen. Gurganus, however, emphasized “guns and bullets” alone will not win in Helmand province. He said while fighting the insurgency is important, at the end of the day, better education and economic growth will be a win for the Afghan people.
Significant gains in education, economy, health, infrastructure and women’s rights have been widespread across the region, particularly in Helmand province.
There was a 26 percent increase in new schools and enrollment increased for males and females at 48 and 59 percent, respectively.
Out of 59 health centers, 49 are now open with more ambulatory services. Under Maj. Gen. Gurganus’ watch, seven health facilities have been refurbished and four have been built from scratch.
Nearly 700 kilometers of road was paved and 49 critical canal assets were repaired. More than $50 million in additional investments have been secured from contributing nations to improve infrastructure.
Income levels have increased 20 percent, 11 women are in prominent government positions and more than 17,000 farmers including 300 women trained in agricultural skills.
Under Maj. Gen. Miller’s leadership, Coalition forces plan to continue advancements and advising ANSF in the region through Security Force Assistance.
Small Security Force Assistance Advisory Teams provide guidance and advice to ANSF units as they conduct security operations. The teams facilitate the transition of security from Coalition forces to ANSF.
Ultimately, Maj. Gen. Miller pledged to build on I MEF (Fwd)’s accomplishments saying, “This will be a great year, a decisive year and a historic year in Afghanistan.”
“There will certainly be challenges in the future, but it will take courage on the behalf of Afghans,” said Major Gen. Gurganus. “(Over the past year) I’ve seen no shortage of courage.”