News: Afghan National Army hosts Sangin residents, promotes security
Story by Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes
SANGIN DISTRICT, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Representatives from the Afghan National Army, along with Afghan government representatives, hosted Upper Sangin Valley elders during two shuras, or meetings, concerning security and development recently.
More than 200 men from the villages of Kotazai and Kalawal gathered to discuss the future of security in the area, a vital concern if further development is to continue in the area. This willingness to come together is a sign of local residents’ efforts to work toward solutions for a brighter tomorrow.
An imam, or Muslim religious leader, opened the two separate events with a prayer and encouraging words. Leaders from the ANA Cashf Tolai, which translates to Intelligence Company, and other Afghan National Security Force representatives followed, adding their own prayers and sentiments.
These leaders spoke to the village elders about improvements in security and the need for volunteers to enlist in the Afghan Local Police to maintain the peace.
The ANA and the U.S. Marine Corps’ 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion have effectively implemented counterinsurgency operations in the Upper Sangin Valley, seeing positive improvements in the area while driving insurgents from the region. Security advancements in the area have contributed to the beginning of much-needed projects.
“We have a very peaceful area right now; everyone is free to do as he wishes,” said 1st Lt. Farhad Pachkhan, a platoon commander with the Cashf Tolai who led the shura in Kalawal. “Afghan Local Police will keep the security in the area. They are the best protection for your village.”
Pachkhan stressed this point and said the village residents should have a vested interest in their own communities and can keep watch when the ANA or Marines are not in the immediate area.
Debates sparked among the elders and government representatives regarding security, development projects, and the priority of the issues. Some of elders argued the need for roads, schools, clinics, and canal work to be organized and implemented before they would commit their families’ young men to the security effort. The elders said it would take their sons away from helping with the farming, which is the main source of income in the area.
A pivotal portion of the local economy is the farmer’s access to water. The local canals the Sangin famers depend on are not receiving the water flow they need to maintain crops due to overgrowth and blockages in the canal system. However, increased security in the area can now enable projects to clear the canals.
“The fighting is not going to solve anything. If there is no peace, the government is not going to be able to help,” said Major A. Niz Minh, the Cashf Tolai commander who led the shura at Kotazai. “The Helmand River has a lot of water, but it all goes to waste (because the canals are blocked). Without security, the canal project will halt and will not be completed.”
Pachkhan also explained to the crowd at the shura he hosted that the process will not work if security doesn’t come first. Contractors and engineers need the area to be safe in order to correct the problems.
“Thirty-five years of war, this is not the way; we must come together and discuss our problems. The main problem is a lack of education. Everyone must help with security so schools can be built,” said Abdul Haq, a local elder. “This is where we will get our doctors for clinics, engineers for construction projects, and commanders for the military. The future is in younger generations, but none of this can happen unless security comes first.”
Niz Minh also said increased security keeps the villages from being dependent on coalition forces. He explained the government starts at the tribe or village level, and with that comes responsibilities.
“If you build your local police, you will not have to ask any foreigners to come here to keep the security,” Niz Minh said. “You are going to keep security in your local area by yourself.”
The ANA commanders invited the elders to come to the local ANA bases if they have any questions and reinforced their need to have faith in the Afghan military and government.
“Come forward and take part in the security effort so we can help build your homes and villages,” said Pachkhan. “We have to work together to make a brighter future for our kids. No one can help solve your problems until you come forward.”
The elders took the first step toward working with the government by showing up to the shura, and soldiers were able to show elders what the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan can offer its citizens. The ANA soldiers distributed more than 7,000 pounds of humanitarian assistance supplies such as blankets, cooking oil, and rice to the local residents at the end of the shuras.
Editor’s Note: Third Reconnaissance Battalion is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8 in 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.