Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Afghanistan: Moshtarak a we'll rebuild

By Bob Roberts Daily Mirror
Pictures by Maj Paul Smyth

Aid was ordered into the old Taliban badlands yesterday as our forces declared success in Operation Moshtarak.

After weeks of fighting, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth and International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander went to the front line to see the results of the huge military operation.

Walking through the village of Khowshhal Kalay

And in the Helmand village of Khowshhal Kalay, where just three months ago the Taliban ruled, the Mirror joined the two men on foot patrol. Around 600 insurgents died here in heavy fighting as well as two British soldiers.

It is a dusty, dirty place with irrigation ditches filled with green water.

Ramshackle mud buildings line the rough tracks, some still showing the damage of fighting.

An Afghan National Policeman in the village of Khowshhal Kalay

Fresh opium poppies are being grown in small fields. But a road impassable a few months ago now has open shops with people willing to shake hands with British ministers without fear of bloody reprisals.

Ragged children play in the streets. A mosque with a tower used by Taliban snipers is being rebuilt. There are heavily fortified police checkpoints.

The foundations of a new school are also being built. Within a month it will provide education for 600 boys and girls.

Before Moshtarak, Forward Patrol Base Sangaan, where British troops were stationed here, was under siege. Soldiers could not leave without heavy fighting. A Grenadier Guard grins as he says: "We haven't been shot at for three weeks.'' Brigadier James Cowan, in charge of UK military operations in Helmand, is a cautious man. Asked whether Operation Moshtarak was a victory, he says: "I don't like the word victory.

"It suggests one army defeating another. We are here to win over the people.'' But pushed he makes clear the operation is a success. "There is more to be done but we have made very good progress.'' Standing in Forward patrol Base Samsor after his walkabout, Mr Ainsworth said: "The foundations have been laid. We have seen it today... smiling Afghans, happy to walk up and engage with us.'' He admitted there was likely to be a counteroffensive to retake the ground. But now the work to rebuild the village in the district of Nad e Ali and other areas begins.

Mr Alexander announced yesterday there would be an extra £28million invested here over the next three years. He said: "As soon as the fighting stops the stabilisation begins.

"The money will contribute to the roads, to the irrigation, to the seeds this population needs in the future."

Khowshhal is a small, scruffy village in a far-flung part of Afghanistan.

An RAF Chinook flies in the visitors to Khowshhal Kalay

But the soldiers who fought here and the politicians who visit believe it provides a big answer to whether the war in Afghanistan is winnable. It is.


  1. Like the pictures Paul. Keep up the good work!

  2. Great that Bob & Douglas visted our troops 3 weeks after Op M and took time to shake the hands of locals - Great that we are giving an EXTRA 28 million to help rebuild the country even though Poppies are still growing - which I believe the Taleban use to fund their terrorist activities? Op M a Victory? We are there to Win Over The People? - In this instance we lost two hero's (R.I.P) not mentioning our wounded - or the number of lives lost/wounded in total - Mixed feelings about the fact that our troops can now leave their base without being shot at - because from where I am sitting, this means that whoever is hiding the Taleban are allowing them to make more IED's....
    However, as always, PROUD OF OUR TROOPS - you more than deserve your 2% pay increase.

    And for any cynics out there - this is my point of view!!!

  3. Making IED's or moved to Sangin, take your pick.
    One thing for certain the only good Taliban is a dead Taliban.

  4. A Good point of view at that. Progress not perfection. My heart is with you brave men and women.