Jan 18, 2011

Marine Success in Helmand Recognized

Marines Fighting Back in Helmand Province

ISW Scholar Jeffrey A. Dressler examines the heated fight for the Taliban’s financial hub, Helmand province, finding the insurgency has been driven out en masse

Washington, D.C: Helmand is Afghanistan’s largest province and the central node of the Taliban’s narcotics empire, generating substantial funds to finance a brutal insurgency. In short, success in Afghanistan requires success in Helmand province.

“Helmand province was formally the economic life-blood of the insurgency, but U.S. Marines and coalition forces have made remarkable gains there by taking back key terrain that was previously controlled by the Taliban,” explained ISW Afghanistan Scholar, Jeff Dressler. “The enemy network is fractured and it proves counterinsurgency can work in southern Afghanistan, while noting that sustainable progress is still elusive.”

Key findings and recommendations:

Helmand is the first province in Afghanistan to receive sufficient force to engage in comprehensive, population-centric counterinsurgency operations. Requisite troop numbers did not arrive in Helmand until the summer of 2009, a full three years after the U.K. arrived in 2006.

The insurgency in Helmand has been significantly degraded over the past eighteen months. Coalition and Afghan forces have removed nearly all insurgent safe havens and are killing, capturing, and denying insurgent’s access to key terrain and population centers in and around the Helmand River Valley.

According to recent polling by the Washington Post, ABC and the BBC, the number of people in Helmand describing their security as "good" increased from 14 percent in December 2009 poll to 67 percent as of December 2010.

Although there have been tremendous strides made in provincial and district governance over the past several years, some critical challenges remain, including identifying and attracting capable civil servants.

In Helmand, insurgent weapons caches and bomb making materials are seized alongside narcotics, highlighting the increasingly cooperative relationship between the insurgency and the drug trade.

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