Marines Fight Back in Helmand Province
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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. - The Institute for the Study of War has released the final report in a two-part special series on Southern Afghanistan, Counterinsurgency in Helmand - Progress and Remaining Challenges by Jeffrey A. Dressler. 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 formerly 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."
This two page executive summary and 45 page report offers a detailed assessment of counterinsurgency efforts in Helmand province since the summer of 2009, including Operations Strike of the Sword and Moshtarak. The report analyzes the coalition’s progress along five primary lines of effort: security; Afghan National Security Forces development; counternarcotics; governance; and reconstruction and development. It also contains seven new maps and four new graphicsdetailing the fight in Helmand.
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.
Jeffrey Dressler was invited to Afghanistan in July 2010 to join a team conducting research for General David Petraeus following his assumption of command. His additional work on Helmand includes, Securing Helmand: Understanding and Responding to the Enemy, published in September 2009.
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