Lt Col Nick Kitson: This is no time to waver: progress in Helmand is slow but steady

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The Independent Online

In recent weeks here in Helmand, the theme has been one of continued progress on all fronts. The temperature, the reduced winter vegetation and the pressure the insurgents face – from us and others – have all acted in our favour.

We have been ruthless in exploiting these advantages and every soldier has worked tirelessly, with great commitment, to ensure we press home every opportunity to increase the security in our areas and convince the locals to reject the insurgents.

Mobilising the population to reject the insurgency is the name of the game; our Afghan army and police partners are working with us towards this goal. Having conducted several significant operations to establish ourselves in new, smaller patrol bases with a broader and more comprehensive footprint we are now living at much closer quarters with the population.

Now that we are genuinely their neighbours in a large number of places – there are 29 security force locations in the Battle Group area, of which we are present in 23 – we can communicate with the locals on a continuous basis, understand their hopes and fears and tell them the truth about what we are trying to do.

This is a traditional and remote rural area with few trappings of the modern world, even by Afghan standards. Yes, there are battered old cars, motorbikes and the occasional ancient tractor but even the ubiquitous mobile phone has no functioning network here. The people have not had the benefit of meaningful modern education. The limited healthcare is normally in the hands of profiteers offering little but quackery.

As such, the locals are prone to the tallest of stories that the Taliban have to offer. This intimidation and misinformation is purely to cow the population into submission – and for no other purpose than to retain the dominance of power-hungry extremists and smugglers with no interest beyond their own status and material gain.

By getting among the population and interacting with them on a persistent basis, we with our Afghan colleagues provide them with visible, tangible security and protection from these abuses.

This is an extract from the mid-term report of the Commanding Officer of the 3rd Battalion the Rifles in Helmand Province, Afghanistan

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