CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Local leaders and representatives of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan are working toward a brighter future in Sangin district and have made considerable progress in the past year. They have effectively transformed the once teeming insurgent hotbed into a relatively secure area where residents feel safe.
“In the past, the situation of Sangin district was unacceptable to the people of Sangin,” said Afghan National Army Lt. Col. Hazbullah, the commanding officer of 2nd Kandak, 2nd Brigade, 215th Corps. “In the area of five kilometers away, our security forces did not have access; the area was under the threat of the enemy. By the cooperation of Afghan units, there is [now] security and there is a peaceful situation.”
Afghan security forces began to take on more responsibility this summer by leading patrols and security efforts in the area, as Marines and sailors with 2nd Marine Division (Forward) began to step back into a role that was more advisory in nature.
“Over the past five months, the situation in Sangin district is improving,” said Hazbullah. “We are moving toward development. Today we have been able to gain the trust of the public. The people are confident that [security forces] are able to defend the property and honor of the people. The confidence and trust of the people is a result of the achievement of the security forces here.”
With a solid and confident Afghan security force taking the forefront, local leaders have begun to focus on rebuilding key aspects of daily life in the district, concentrating mainly on education. With three schools currently in operation and a new high school under construction, the registered number of students rose from 267 at the beginning of 2011 to more than 2,000 at the beginning of 2012. Local officials are currently looking into refurbishing and activating 12 primary schools, due to the significantly increased interest in education.
“Education is very important,” said Waheedullah, a teacher for the Afghan National Police in Sangin. “If someone is not educated, he is like a blind man.”
“People like education,” added Mohammad Sharif, the district governor of Sangin. “For the past 35 years [Sangin residents] have lost interest in education because of the enemy. With the cooperation of the international community, they have gained their interest back.”
The interest in education extends beyond the classroom and into the fields, as farmers learn new and beneficial farming techniques. Afghan government officials have distributed 3,500 packages containing 50 kg of certified high-quality wheat seed so far to discourage the growth of illegal crops and provide an alternative means of income. Progress does not stop in the fields, however, as roads are being paved, allowing for greater freedom of movement and effectively connecting Sangin to the rest of Helmand province.
In Sangin district, gradually improvements have been taking place – for example: building roads, building clinics, electricity repairs, expanding the education sector, and improving and expanding security,” said Sharif. “By the cooperation and self-sacrifices of Marine forces and including the Afghan National Security Forces, [these improvements] have been accomplished.”
All of the security and development efforts in Sangin district are building toward the ultimate goal of transitioning security responsibility to the Afghan forces in the future. “The district community councils have begun taking over the [development] projects,” said Roy, Utah, native Staff Sgt. Joseph Spencer, the development chief and education officer for the Civil-Military Operations section with 2nd Marine Division (Forward).
“Elders will go to the Afghan government [now] before going to the Marines. The [council] will then have a shura to talk about the best way to fund the project. The people are going to GIRoA and asking for things, and GIRoA is producing and providing without our help.”
For more information on progress in Sangin and the rest of Southwestern Afghanistan, view video interviews with Afghan officials at “New series gives voice to Afghan leaders” or visit the division’s unit page at the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System.
Editor’s note: Second Marine Division (Forward) 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 Force 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.