Afghan forces under threat in
Helmand By Gol Ahmad Ehsan
HELMAND - As Afghan forces prepare to take
over from international troops, some residents of
the troubled southern province of Helmand worry
that they are not yet up to the job.
some areas including Helmand's main town Lashkar
Gah were transferred to Afghan control in July
2011, the second phase of the handover began on
December 26. This covers three more districts of
Helmand - Marjah, Nad Ali and Nawa - as well as
Balkh, Daikondi, Takhar and Samangan provinces in
the north, Nimroz in the southwest, major towns
including Jalalabad, Sheberghan, Faizabad, Ghazni
and Maidan Shahr, and Kabul province.
Although Helmand no longer suffers from
the kind of intense
fighting that was common three
years ago, residents say security is not well
enough established for the handover to be a
They say that after Lashkar Gah
was handed over, it was hit by a number of suicide
attacks, so the withdrawal of foreign troops from
rural districts is likely to allow the Taliban to
move back into areas from which they were partly
or wholly expelled.
Lashkar Gah resident
Abdul Hadi said the handover was a good thing but
had come too soon for Helmand, where the Taliban
were fully in control of some areas while the
government only held major urban centers in
"If the process of transition is
to take place now, it will certainly entail
bloodshed among Helmand's people," Abdul Hadi
said. "At a time like this, I think that handing
over security would be a big betrayal."
Saleh Mohammad, from the Nad Ali district,
said that since Afghan security forces had not
managed to impose security while foreign troops
were still in Helmand, they would never do so
"I think that once the
transition process is completed, warfare will
intensify in Helmand," he said. "It's true that
the Afghan police and army are better trained than
in the past, but they aren't equipped with the
weapons and artillery they need to prevent Taliban
Mohammad Laiq Sarferaz, who
served as an officer in the Soviet-backed military
of the 1980s, said the current Afghan National
Army, ANA, and Afghan National Police, ANP, were
not as committed as their insurgent opponents.
"These forces are divided into [ethnic and
factional] groups, and ... they put their personal
and group interests first, which are not
necessarily those of the country or the nation,"
he said. "Another important point is that these
forces don't have the same motive for fighting as
the Taliban have."
While the insurgents
believed in pursuing war for their faith and for a
free Afghanistan, Sarferaz said, government forces
were still unclear about what they were fighting
for. "If the armed forces aren't given a clear
explanation of what patriotism and the aims of the
war are, they won't be able to maintain security,"
Matiullah, originally from
Marjah, says the prospect of a security handover
in his district has not convinced him to leave the
safety of Lashkar Gah and go back home. Like many
in Helmand, he has little confidence in ANA and
ANP personnel brought in from elsewhere. A
locally-recruited auxiliary police force was also
operating in Marjah, but would not cope on its
own, he said.
"Thousands of national and
international forces carried out an operation in
Marjah district, which took months and gained
international notoriety. Despite this, security
was not imposed very well in Marjah. If foreign
forces leave the district, how will these thieving
police and army men be able to halt the Taliban?
We don't trust these armed forces. Even before the
Taliban came, they [government forces] used to
loot us - they are marijuana users, intoxicated
Low morale has resulted in high
desertion rates in the government's security
"We don't know who our friends and
enemies are," an ANA officer who deserted two
months ago told the Institute for War and Peace
Reporting (IWPR), speaking on condition of
anonymity. "One day our president says the Taliban
... are our enemies, and the next he calls them
our brothers. The Americans view the Taliban as
their enemies one day, yet they have started
underground talks with them and say they aren't
"Many soldiers like me have
become confused about who they are fighting, why
they should fight, and who they are fighting for."
Government and defense officials deny that
the military lacks resolve or direction.
According to Helmand governor Mohammad
Gulab Mangal, "When responsibility for security in
Lashkar Gah was handed over to Afghan forces,
people were concerned and mistrustful about
whether security would be maintained in the city.
And at the same time, our opponents tried to stir
up chaos to demonstrate that the transition had
been a failure. However, our brave Afghan forces
were able to prevent any type of incidents."
With proper training and equipment in
place, Mangal said, "We are ready to deal with any
kind of security issue. We want to reassure the
public that no problems will arise."
the Defense and Interior Ministry have recently
intensified their recruitment processes. Defense
Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi says ANA numbers
now stand at 180,000 and will reach 195,000 by
October 2012. Defense Ministry staff say the ANA
should expand to 240,000 by the end of 2014, when
international troops are scheduled to leave
General Shirshah, commander
of the ANA's Maiwand Corps, acknowledged that army
units in the province did not have all the weapons
they needed, but insisted this would not hinder
the security handover.
"We have a very
good plan in place in Helmand, and coordination
among the ANA, ANP and Afghan National Security
Directorate is excellent. We can take over
responsibility for security from the foreign
forces, and I would like to assure people that
there won't be any problems - we are going to do
better," he said.
Helmand's police chief
Mohammad Hakim Angar added, "I can give an
assurance that people should not worry, as our
forces are very strong and are capable of
maintaining security in this area."
Gol Ahmad Ehsan is an
IWPR-trained reporter in Helmand.