Those of us serving in Helmand Province are intent on enjoying the Olympic Games despite being far away from London. All of the soldiers I have spoken with are looking forward to The Olympics, the headquarters is awash with patriotic Union Flag bunting and there are plenty who will stay up past midnight to watch the spectacular of the opening ceremony.
It’s not just the British troops who are looking forward to London 2012, many of the Afghans I deal with on a daily basis have talked about their excitement for the forthcoming games. The six athletes who are representing Afghanistan are a real source of national pride and they are particularly hopeful for Rohullah Nikpai, the taekwando fighter who won Afghanistan’s first Olympic medal at the Beijing games.
There is a strong sporting heritage in Afghanistan, the regular British defeat on the Lashkar Gah volleyball court at the hands of Afghan Army and Police teams serves as a reminder of their athletic prowess. Despite years under the ultra-conservative Taliban who violently repressed public sporting events, as security across the province improves we are seeing more and more sporting fixtures of all types pop up around Helmand.
Recently a wrestling match took place in Nahr-e Saraj which attracted over four hundred people from all over the district. It is important to note that these people felt safe enough to travel long distances, some had travelled from as far afield as Sangin, to an event that would have been strictly forbidden by the previous regime. This speaks volumes of the confidence that Afghans now place in the security in the area; the fact that the Afghan police were solely responsible for safety at the event is a clear demonstration of the success of the ISAF training mission.
Here in Lashkar Gah we are fully entering into the spirit of the games but we remain focussed on the task at hand. Along with our Afghan partners in the police and the Army we are planning to conduct our own “Helmand Olympics” at the Lashkar Gah stadium later this year. I am optimistic that this will bring all involved closer together and be a great way to build stronger relationships between ISAF and the local Afghans. I am however, less confident in a Task Force Helmand victory in the wrestling.
On behalf of all of all the British troops serving in Helmand I would like to wish the best of British to all the athletes in team GB; Good Luck!
Brigadier Doug Chalmers, Commander Task Force Helmand