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Michael O'Neill » UK Senior Representative, Southern Afghanistan

Leaving Helmand

Feature image for:  Leaving Helmand

Today is my last day in Helmand, concluding in a joint transfer ceremony with Maj Gen John Toolan of the US Marines to our successors.  It’s a good moment to take stock of progress. Helmand Province has been transformed in the past two years, building on foundations lain in the preceding years by ISAF and Afghan forces.  Threats still persist – as the tragic deaths last week of six British … Read more »Leaving Helmand

Helmand on International Women’s Day

Feature image for:  Helmand on International Women’s Day

Helmand Province offers a microcosm of the wide range of conditions facing women and girls in Afghanistan.  In many rural areas it’s hard for girls to get any kind of education, and extremely difficult to find trained female teachers.  There’s a desperate shortage of trained midwives, with all the obvious consequences for maternal and child mortality.  And women and girls sometimes suffer terribly from harsh traditional custom and practice. But … Read more »Helmand on International Women’s Day

Farewell to Sangin

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I visited Sangin today for the last time as Head of the PRT. It’s a place where many ISAF and Afghan troops have lost their lives over the years. When I went for the first time in October 2010 we had to fly in after dark for security reasons. That summer and autumn Royal Marines and US Marines took very heavy casualties. Sangin epitomised the challenges in northern Helmand. Today … Read more »Farewell to Sangin

Afghans in front

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The test of progress in our work – and the essence of Transition – is whether the Afghan authorities and people can build on the transformation emerging across Helmand in the past two or three years.  Last week offered several encouraging signs that they’re ready to do so. On Thursday I joined Gov Mangal, Ministry Directors, District Governors and Councillors and 300 other local leaders to mark the growing success … Read more »Afghans in front

A New Year in Helmand

Governor Mangal addresses elders in Kajaki

Returning to Helmand in early January, there’s clear evidence of both progress and continuing challenges as we enter 2012 – and, for me, my last two months in Afghanistan. On Thursday in Nad-Ali I was briefed on the further expansion of security across northern areas of the District, following Afghan-led operations in December.  I got similar briefings when I visited Nad-Ali for the first time in late-2010.  Whole swathes of … Read more »A New Year in Helmand

Sandy skies in Helmand

Christmas sandstorm

I remember being surprised to hear the Deputy Provincial Governor say: The thing about Helmand is you never know what to expect with the weather.  In a week when the UK Prime Minister was unable to reach Lashkar Gah or Camp Bastion because of a dust-storm, I understand what he meant.  On a third consecutive day with visibility below 100 metres, the frustration is particularly acute for soldiers due to … Read more »Sandy skies in Helmand

Making it last

Arriving in Afghanistan 15 months ago I was struck by the scepticism of many visitors at our accounts of progress in Helmand.  Over time I learnt that such disbelief was common even among Afghans.  In Marjah some weeks ago I met a local Elder who had been talking on the phone the day before to his brother in Kabul.  When the Elder said he was calling from Marjah, his brother … Read more »Making it last

International partnerships and transformation in Helmand

Feature image for:  International partnerships and transformation in Helmand

World leaders meet in Bonn today to reaffirm international commitment to Afghanistan for the long term.  It’s an important moment to re-energise progress after the challenges of 2011 – the Kabul Bank crisis, assassinations of key political leaders, tensions with neighbouring countries.  Today’s Conference in Bonn will mark reinvigoration of the Kabul Process launched last year to marry future international assistance with Afghan commitment to further reform.   Strategic challenges … Read more »International partnerships and transformation in Helmand

A taste for the opportunities of cyberspace

Southern Afghanistan probably won’t feature much at next week’s London Conference on Cyberspace. Only a handful of the world’s two billion internet users live in Helmand. Nonetheless the web and other new technologies are important elements of the transformation underway across the province. Young people lead the way. Computer and mobile phone skills are among the most heavily-subscribed classes in the Mercy Corps vocational training that started in Lashkar Gah … Read more »A taste for the opportunities of cyberspace

Afghan Anniversaries

Last weekend I completed my first year in Helmand – a few weeks after we commemorated the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and the thousands of lives lost around the world in the struggle with international terrorism.  This week marks ten years since military operations began in Afghanistan soon after the attack on the Twin Towers.  Unsurprisingly the international media and others have been reviewing the progress made and challenges ahead. My … Read more »Afghan Anniversaries