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Afghan Officials Look to Build Stability in Helmand Province

March 2, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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Afghan officials are focused on bringing stable governance and public infrastructure services to the former Taliban stronghold of Marjah, after raising the Afghan flag over the city last week. Alex Thomson reports for ITN.
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JIM LEHRER: Now a second report, this one about establishing governance in Helmand Province, again to Alex Thomson.

ALEX THOMSON: In a tent in the British base at Shawqat, we meet Ali Habbibullah.

I’m very pleased to meet you.

But this is no social call, for the district governor has information concerning insurgents who might want a deal to lay down their arms.

MAN: A number would like to get in touch with the enemies.

ALEX THOMSON: The British tactic? Don’t get involved. Habbibullah can sort it, not a bunch of Englishmen.

The Habbibullahs of this world are vital to ISAF, NATO, men like this perhaps its last chance to get out of the country, officials actually trusted by the people in the bazaars not to line their own pockets, or worse.

Walk out of the camp here, which you can safely do if you take a foot patrol of British and Afghan solders, and you can see NATO’s last hope emerging from the ground, the brickies hard at it building new offices for Mr. Habbibullah. Cross the street and his officials, too, hard at work, government in an area which has had no government for years.

The good news, locals have enough faith to line up here and get their papers sorted out. The bad news, emerging government here will count for nothing if the Americans leave too soon. And these Afghans believe they will, and their own forces cannot possibly cope. As is their way, they elected one man to speak for all, Faisal Ullah.

If ISAF leaves Afghanistan, can Afghan police, can the Afghan army keep control against Taliban?

FAISAL ULLAH, Afghanistan: No, not very well. It’s not expected that we will control Afghanistan.

ALEX THOMSON: The deep fear here, that the puny Afghan forces will be left without NATO, ISAF, with both Iran on one side and Pakistan on the other interfering as ever.

Pakistan wants…

FAISAL ULLAH: Pakistan and Iran wants to fight with ISAF, by the help of Afghanistan Taliban.

ALEX THOMSON: So…

FAISAL ULLAH: But we need you that you bring Taliban and…

ALEX THOMSON: To discuss with Taliban…

FAISAL ULLAH: … and government, that they sit together.

ALEX THOMSON: Yes.

ALEX THOMSON: We should talk with the Taliban.

FAISAL ULLAH: Yes. Taliban doesn’t want to fight with the ISAF.

ALEX THOMSON: So, the police bosses in Helmand, like Commander Hakikan and Colonel Katam Shah, have some job to do, banditry, the biggest opium industry on the planet, and an insurgency backed by Iran to the west, Pakistan to the east. Who would be a cop in Helmand?

No wonder the British have brought in ANCOP, teams of super cops from Kabul with a bit more real training to go get things going.

CAPT. TOBY GREENE, British army: Originally, we had bad policemen, and, therefore, we need the ANCOP group to come in force, to come over, to gain the local — the local population hated the ANP. And they — and to some extent, into some areas, they still do. But with the ANCOP, they came down. They — they completely got the population on side and — and won over.

ALEX THOMSON: In the U.K., the police top brass might worry about the I.T. system in a new building. Here, at a new police post, they’re worried the Taliban will murder them by night.

SOLDIER: This is why we have these vehicles here. They have the night sights, so they can be put on the road. If there’s a threat, they can be put on the road to protect an observation. In the sentry position here, there will be binoculars and night sights. And as long as they share the security tasks, then we will be able to see.

ALEX THOMSON: Up the road, and there’s still time for lunch at the local nick with the commander. There is much to discuss. For Afghans, their army and their police, the sheer ambition of NATO’s exit strategy is colossal, and not yet in sight by any means.