Officer Commanding E Company, The Royal Irish Regiment, speaks with a local Musa Qala Elder prior to moving his Company to Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan
[Picture: Sean Clee]
Elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade had been operating in and around Musa Qala, one of the district centres in southern Helmand province, for most of the summer. They have provided close protection to the local police station and Government offices against sustained attacks from the Taliban. Along with Sangin and Now Zad, the area has seen some incredibly intense and bloody battles.
But in early September the local tribal elders of Musa Qala approached Governor Daud of Helmand province with a proposal for a new start within the district. The proposal looked for a form of self-policing, with a locally-raised Militia trained and equipped by the Government of Afghanistan.
On 12 September 2006 the elders instigated a form of ceasefire and prevented the Taliban from attacking the district centre. This cessation of violence has lasted for 35 days.
Following further negotiations with the regional and national government a deal was struck whereby the tribal elders would guarantee the security, stability and governance of the district. This arrangement has the full backing of Afghanistan’s President Karzai.
A Marine from 42 Commando Royal Marines protects the desert Landing Site just outside Musa Qala. He waits for the men of E Company, The Royal Irish Regiment, to arrive.
[Picture: Sean Clee]
Brigadier Ed Butler, commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, speaking at a press conference in London on Tuesday was encouraged by this turn of events. He said:
"People power has been generated here. The ordinary Afghan is starting to recognise what the Taliban is and what a democratically elected Government can provide for them instead. The local elders turned to the representative Government when the Taliban failed to deliver what they had promised."
Brigadier Butler also said that the longer the cessation of violence continues, the more encouraging the future signs are. He stressed that the arrangement had been negotiated with the local elders and not the Taliban.
"The Taliban is on the back foot and we are on the ascendancy," he continued. "For this campaign season, if I can put it like that, we have tactically beaten the Taliban. They are having trouble with their re-supply lines, getting resources and ammunition through. The intensity of the fighting has died down and the morale of the foot solider has lowered.
"We now need to build on the differences between the Taliban and the ordinary people who are now turning to local government."
The agreement means there is no longer a requirement for the UK forces, part of the NATO ISAF mission, to remain in the centre - so on Tuesday in a joint UK and Afghan operation the UK forces redeployed out of the district centre.