Within the last two weeks, Helmand’s tumultuous security situation once again hit the headlines while I was waiting to see what would happen to this region, which is almost 10 per cent of Afghanistan’s geography.
When I arrived in Helmand just days back, I got the chance to meet senior security officials of Afghanistan’s army and police while we were being briefed by senior security affairs personnel including deputy to the Interior Minister of Afghanistan on the prevalent situation.
During our discussions with Deputy Minister, home affairs (or interior) Gen. Abdul Rahman Rahman and Helmand Governor Hayatullah Hayat, we came to know that the ongoing battle around the capital city of Lashkar Gah is not the only concern rather there are other dimensions of the war that make the situation complicated.
The opium production, the power of domestic and international mafia networks, regional conflicts on water resources (especially in Helmand) and last but not the least over 200 km porous borders with Pakistan very easily accessible to the insurgents for cross border infiltrations, are some of the contributing factors to Helmand’s instability.
Afghan officials talked of a more complicated and heavily armed Taliban having access to the most modern arms and ammunition, and emergence of a new group called “Red Units” whose members are mostly people with Pakistani identity cards. They said that the new group who have been fighting in Helmand were engaged in battles in Kashmir last year.
Moreover, officials communicated that last year Taliban’s total fighters were around 12,000 people but now they are almost 4,000.
A local government official said that this year alone around 30 groups including Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT) have entered the country through the southern borders and are fighting the government in Helmand. The main weapons used are sniper rifles. An official anonymously told that “Taliban wage attacks on a check-point with three or four kinds of heavy weapons. They take control of the checkpoints and plant IEDs (improvised explosive devices) as their new tactics are now more focussed on IEDs and land mines.”
I met a senior army commander in the frontline of the battles at Chah-e-Anjir, just 15 km away from the capital city of Lashkar Gah, who was highly annoyed by the Police forces saying that “they (police) have given up 27 check posts to the Taliban without firing a bullet.”
The Chah-e-Anjir roundabout is the connecting area of Lashkar Gah, and Nad Ali district that is surrounded by the government forces for around two weeks. (Taliban have been expelled of this area now) The area is surrounded by dense forests. Even the life is at stake there, civilians are living in the area till now.
When I was waiting to be checked by security forces before entering Helmand emergency hospital, a few injured people approached. At least 10 injured people were waiting for treatment and the emergency hospital director said that in the two week time, they have received 180 injured. In comparison to last year during the same period he talked of 40 per cent increase in casualties.
The governor spokesman talked of 1,800 families’ displacement. Interestingly, there is no shelter available for these people. They are all residing with local residents. Shirin Gul who was able to reach the provincial refugees directorate of Helmand was standing at the gate asking for support. Looking at me, she thought of me as an NGO employee and started talking about her situation. She told, “My husband is a soldier. Taliban have abducted him alive from his check-post and there is still no news of him. With all these children what should I do and where to go. I have nothing to eat for tonight.
The Afghan government force has managed to repel the Taliban from Nawa, Garmsir and Nad Ali and now focused on Kandahar-Helmand highway. The highway has plenty of IEDs and the ANSF has cleared 32km of the highway so far and another one kilometre still remains to be demined and the task is no doubt challenging. The Afghan National Security Forces’ demining teams have been working relentlessly to clear the rest of the highway and soon the government will establish check posts.
The government is still struggling to safeguard Lashkar Gah city with its 3, 00,000 population while Helmand which has a geography as vast as Belgium with 1.1 million population is facing wide range of challenges and broad instability. It is still unclear where the fate of Afghanistan’s greener province would head by the end of this war season.
Sultan faizy is a special correspondent of Los Angeles Times in Afghanistan. Before that, Mr. Faizy worked with prestigious international media outlets including the National Public Radio (NPR) and the Associated Press (AP).
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Khabarnama’s editorial policy.