In March 2006 the base at Lashkar Gah was a quiet, sleepy place being handed over by a few Americans to a small British team. I was staying at a guesthouse in town and accompanying a British officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Worsley, as he went to shuras (public meetings), with minimal security, to tell the elders about the security and development which would arrive along with the force being sent by London.
The locals were guarded but welcoming. One could move around in relative safety. The one worry was the confused messages from Tony Blair's government about opium eradication. The British did not want to create enemies among farmers whose livelihood had been ruined.
But the decision had already been taken and the American security company DynCorp arrived with a private army to destroy the poppy fields. Soon after was the first suicide attack in the Helmand capital that anyone could recall.
The Lash became the HQ of British military and civilian mission in Afghanistan, heavily guarded, and an oasis of peace away from the frontline where the mission John Reid had hoped would end "with not a shot being fired in anger" had turned into a raging counter-insurgency campaign.
I was there last July when security control of Helmand was "transitioned' to Afghan authorities. The following week a bomb killed 11 people. But that was not entirely unexpected.
The shooting of the servicemen at Lashkar Gah does not mean that there had been a massive breakdown of security. What it does show is that in this febrile climate and the increase in Afghan security forces turning their guns on their allies, nowhere is entirely safe.
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- Helmand Province
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