Securing Helmand: Understanding and Responding to the Enemy

Key Findings and Policy Recommendations

  • Helmand Province is critical terrain both for the enemy and for coalition forces.
    • Helmand contains important lines of communication for both enemy and friendly forces.
    • It is an agricultural hub for Afghanistan and economic nexus for the narcotics trade.
    • The overwhelmingly-Pashtun population of Helmand shares ethnic and cultural ties to other areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    • Recent gains enjoyed by insurgents in Helmand have made a deliberate and properly-resourced campaign by coalition forces that much more critical.
  • The enemy system in Helmand is resourced and directed by the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST). The enemy is determined, well-organized, and entrenched in the province. In recent years, the enemy has shown its ability to adapt to the evolving conflict by developing and executing coherent campaign plans to achieve its objectives.
  • The enemy system in Helmand Province can be divided into three distinct but related enemy systems in the southern, central, and northern Helmand River Valley.
o   The southern Helmand River Valley facilitates the movement of foreign fighters and weapons to central Helmand. It also facilitates the refining, storage and eventual movement of narcotics out of Helmand, mainly through the province’s southern border with Pakistan.
o   Central Helmand is the enemy’s center of gravity in the province. The heart of the enemy system is located west of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah and around the province’s economic center in Gereshk in the Nahri Sarraj district.
o   The enemy system in northern Helmand is entrenched along the Helmand and Musa Qala Rivers, in and around the fertile farmland mainly used for opium cultivation.
  • Success in Helmand requires a comprehensive population-centric counterinsurgency campaign that is properly resourced and executed. Such a campaign seeks to maximize the net effect of limited resources in critical areas by protecting and positively influencing the population. Coalition forces cannot be everywhere and prioritizing objectives is essential.
  • Given limited resources, coalition efforts must focus on the critical population centers. For the enemy and indeed, the coalition, the most critical population centers in the province are Lashkar Gah, Gereshk, Nad Ali, Nawa, Garmser, Sangin, Musa Qala, and Kajaki.
  •  Unity of effort is vital and operations must be mutually-reinforcing in order to achieve maximum impact. Coalition forces must work together to execute a properly coordinated counterinsurgency campaign or their efforts will fail to achieve decisive effects.
o   Over the past several years, coalition forces have engaged the insurgency through targeted raids, designed to push insurgents out of a given area. The result has been operations that temporarily clear an area but fail to prevent the return of insurgents. 
  • The role and responsibilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) must be clearly articulated. There has been an overreliance on the Afghan National Police (ANP) in Helmand. The ANP are simply not equipped for the combat-intensive initial phases of counterinsurgency. The appropriate role for the ANP should be maintaining order once the insurgency has been reduced to a manageable level and effective rule of law has been established.
  • The Afghan National Army (ANA) are appropriate for the combat-intensive phases of counterinsurgency, though they are not present in sufficient numbers in Helmand. Growing the size of the ANA and advancing its capacity to carry out mission-critical counterinsurgency operations in Helmand will help to relieve some of the burden that is currently shouldered by coalition forces.
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