Afghan pomegranates, dried fruit and honey: these are not things you associate with Helmand province but they could be its future. Since November five Military Stabilisation Support Teams (MSSTs),the product of a multinational military and civilian partnership, have been working with villagers in the southern province of Afghanistan. They are trying to make it safe by helping to create prosperity. With the establishment of new infrastructure projects, the teams also hope to help open up Helmand’s plentiful natural resources.
The first team operated in Musa Qala in 2007 after the area had seesawed between Taleban and British control. The “smashy-smashy” of fighting, as the marines call it, had left the infrastructure in tatters, sometimes in a worse state than it had been under the Taleban.
The teams look like soldiers and dress like soldiers but they are the start of a broader coalition initiative, including groups of Danes and Estonians. The MSSTs, which expanded to five last year, are sent into some of the most fragile situations alongside battalions. The aim is to to break the Taleban’s sway over the region and establish long-lasting, non-military solutions — both practical and behavioural — to Helmand’s problems.
Importantly, the MSSTs include men and women recruited from the Joint Civilian Military Co-operation group (Cimic), which oversees the MSSTs, and military Reserves. Their skills are diverse and include agricultural expertise, knowledge of languages, project management, and personnel and resource development.