By Karen Parrish and Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 11, 2012 – The turnaround in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province can be traced to the troop surge and the resulting growth and increasing professionalism of Afghan forces, the Afghan governor and U.S. commander in the province said today.
Briefing Pentagon reporters from Helmand, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus and Helmand Gov. Muhammad Gulab Mangal said that while the environment in Regional Command Southwest remains challenging, coalition and Afghan forces have made steady progress establishing and maintaining security. This, they said, has allowed growth in economic and political development.
The Marines in the province are in the midst of drawing down. Most American troops in the region will be gone by the end of September, with Afghan troops and police taking charge of security. Progress, the general said, is steady.
“I think we’re on the right path, and we're moving forward out here with confidence,” he said. “Our mission is evolving; we’ve moved out of the lead for the counterinsurgency and moving more and more into a security force assistance role, whereby we’re providing partnerships where necessary.”
The command continues to provide advisors and mentors to the Afghan army and police, he said. The command also provides “enablers” – intelligence information, logistics, command and control and so on – as needed.
“We’re on track with executing our portion of the Phase 2 surge recovery, and we’re reshaping our presence to be in a position to support the Afghans as they move into the lead across the province,” Gurganus said.
Before the Marines arrived, only one brigade of the Afghan army was in the region – and it was virtually under siege. Today, the Afghan army has a full corps – three full brigades – deployed to the province, with another brigade outfitting and training for deployment to the region.
The Afghan police in the province during the surge were ineffective, the governor said, and the police force was rife with drug addicts – the Taliban used the province as its source for opium and heroin. “The police, which were almost nonexistent in 2009, now number somewhere over 8,500,” Gurganus said.
But it isn’t just the number of troops and police that gives him confidence, Gurganus said -- it’s their quality.
“I will tell you I'm very confident that … as we hand over this counterinsurgency fight to the Afghan national security force, they’re going to be able to accomplish the mission, they’re going to be able to provide the protection for the population and the people of southwestern Afghanistan,” the general said.
The general and governor also praised the cooperation the command has with the U.S. State Department and allies in the province.