Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Protecting the “bullet magnet” and improving life in southern Afghanistan

Katrina Manson is a Reuters reporter based in East Africa. She recently accompanied the British government’s development agency, DFID, on a visit to Helmand province in south Afghanistan.

The new head of Helmand’s Provisional Reconstruction Team (PRT), tasked with helping to develop one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous and conservative provinces, says that the 300-strong group’s greatest achievement to date is the fact that the governor has managed to visit all 13 districts.

It might sound a strangely slight claim to success for a body that will this year spend £190 million on efforts to rebuild the province and help provide basic services such as justice and education, but for PRT head Lindy Cameron, success is about somebody else doing the work. The PRTs are joint foreign military and civilian teams trying to rebuild the war-torn nation.

“My job is making the government good,” said Cameron. “The point of us being here is to get district government and services up and running and to support the government to be effective enough that people will see it as credible. We have a particularly active and energetic governor who sees it as his job to get out to the people rather than to twiddle his thumbs in an office in Lashkar Gah.”

A favourite of the British military and development officials, Helmand’s provincial governor Gulab Mangal, has been credited for championing opium poppy replacement programmes and helping to steer parts of Helmand’s population away from the Taliban.

Governor Mangal, is known by British helicopter pilots as a “bullet magnet” for just such feistiness (the helicopter he was travelling in was hit by rocket fire last year). Mangal’s successes against the insurgency and his close cooperation with British and U.S. forces in Helmand have brought him many Taliban-shaped enemies who would be happy to see the back of him.

Since taking up the post in March 2008, he has wasted no time in getting out and visiting the districts - opening schools, recruiting police officers, and attempting to convince farmers to grow wheat instead of poppy - recording a 33 percent drop in poppy cultivation this year and hoping for a further 50 percent drop next year.

Nato’s new commander General Stanley McChrystal has said of the military strategy in Afghanistan that “the objective is the will of the Afghan people”. As Nato soldiers attempt to make safe more areas in the province — in which 86 British troops have been killed this year — the PRT is trying to show life under the government is better than life under the Taliban.

For the full article click here for the Reuters Blog Page

1 comment:

  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 11/10/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.