Monday, April 6, 2009

Afghan success about gaining trust - Reuters

By Jonathon Burch

MUSA QALA, Afghanistan (Reuters) - For the British soldiers stationed in Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan's insurgent-ridden Helmand province, success is not so much about building schools and wells but gaining the trust of the people.

While the small and dusty town of Musa Qala, sitting on the edge of a small tributary, may lack the strategic importance of other towns located along the main Helmand River, its history has given it iconic status and the British want to make their mark.

In the past three years, the town has passed from the Taliban to the British, to tribal elders, to the Taliban and for the last year now back to British and Afghan government troops.

"The population were quite wary at the beginning of whether we were going to stay," Major Toby Jackman says, sitting outside the operations centre at the main base in Musa Qala -- a concrete building dubbed the "Taliban Hotel" after its former inhabitants.

"They have seen an ebbing and flowing of different people. The way to success here was that we needed to gain the acceptance of the people," Jackman told Reuters.

To the north and south of the main base are two small bases, acting as the "frontline" with the Taliban. Reluctant to use the word "control," the British say they now have "influence" over an area measuring 10 km (6 miles) from north to south.

While U.S. President Barack Obama tells his European allies they must contribute more to win the war in Afghanistan, success on the ground is slow and is more likely to be achieved with low-tech counter-insurgency tactics aimed at winning over the people.

One of the ways the British military has been trying to reach out to the population inside the Musa Qala security "envelope" is through Military Stabilisation Support Teams (MSST), who try to assess local needs by talking to the Afghan residents.

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