12 November 2009

Helmand TOA

Yesterday the Financial Times reported that the British were planning on transitioning authority of several Helmand Province districts to the ANA over the next 8 months. The article goes on to quote a British official who inferred that the Brits would maintain a presence in the districts but the Afghans would take the lead politically and militarily. At face value this seems to be a great thing and a crucial step toward ending the ISAF mission in Afghanistan.

Now let’s look at the reality of the situation.
24th MEU was moved from Kandahar to Helmand Province early last year to reinforce British elements that were facing increased AQ/Taliban attacks (side note: click here for a great overview of Helmand Province previously provided by JD). The Marines have been doing great things since entering Helmand, but ISAF still faces an uphill battle in the province. Violence across RC-South has been extremely high. Helmand province was also the scene of the tragic 4 November green on blue attack that took the lives of five British MiTT Soldiers.

Is this a repeat of Basra? While this is obviously a completely different country and problem set, there are parallels in the actions of the British Government (UKGov).

The Brits conducted a formal transition of authority ceremony with their Iraqi counterparts in December 2007. Looking back, GoI authorities in Basra were handed a steaming pile that they were unable to handle. This eventually led to PM Maliki ordering Operation Charge of the Knights in March 2008. This operation was supported on the ground by US elements while the UK “overwatch” contingency provided FW CAS from Tornado platforms and logistical support to Iraqi Security Forces. This BBC article provides great commentary on Britain’s stance during the initial phases of the operation. I see this as another premature “high five” on the part of the UKGov. The Taliban’s resiliency and prowess for popping up in ISAF-free areas has been proven time and again.

While I do advocate an end to Afghanistan, I do not see this as an ideal time to start hinting at redeployment. Everyone reading this likely knows and understands the COIN principle of the HN population being the center of gravity. ISAF elements are unlikely to garner much, if any, support from the Afghan populace when they perceive our presence as temporary and the Taliban as permanent.

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