HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN – Despite the ongoing drawdown in Afghanistan, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) announced today that it will deploy an additional infantry battalion to Helmand Province’s second largest city, Camp Bastion, to identify local leaders and carry out counterinsurgency operations.
“Although we are working to responsibly wind down our mission in Afghanistan, the goals of ISAF remains the same: conduct COIN by securing Helmand Province’s population centers,” ISAF Deputy Commander General Nick Carter announced in a press release.
According to General Carter, the battalion will guard some of the estimated 30,000 men and women in this bustling Afghan municipality, as well as its smaller adjacent city of Camp Leatherneck, which has its own road network, bus service, airport, sewage system, internet cafes, laundry facilities, heliport, mail center, gymnasium, water-bottling plant, and satellite relay network.
It is presided over by a council called the Regional Command Southwest and their tribal elder, Major General W. Lee Miller, II.
“This is their country,” said 1st Lieutenant Jim Lucas with the 101st Airborne Division as he led another squad out of Patrol Base Green Bean, past dozens of local men and women drinking coffee. “But it will never be secure until they stop drinking their chai and take responsibility for their own safety.”
“Yut yut oorah!” he called out to the locals in their native dialect, receiving a reply of grunts, “Chesty! Chesty!” and one “Bugger off!”
Lucas said, “It’s easy to get angry with the people because they fund the insurgents through the local Army and Air Force Exchange Service and everybody knows it. But really, it’s not their fault. They’re not looking to make waves with us or the Taliban… they just want to go to work, punch the clock, and be left alone like any working stiff back home.”
Captain David Macintyre, whose company is assigned to patrol this part of Camp Bastion, explained that although the local tribes are headed by warlords called “commanding officers”, the real power in Camp Bastion lies with the town religious figures known as “sergeants major” who provide these warlords with legitimacy.
According to Captain Macintyre, the initial task of ISAF was to convince the sergeants major that the soldiers had not come to Bastion to denigrate the city’s historically strict grooming regulations.
“Counterinsurgency is more than just kicking in doors and handing out money,” Captain Macintyre told Duffel Blog, “but involves understanding the people and their culture. Once we stopped calling them ‘sergeants’ (pronounced ‘sar’nts’) they warmed right up to us.” A carefree resident of Camp Bastion enjoys swimming in a local watering hole.
While the Bastion area was relatively peaceful until recently, a daring nighttime raid by the Taliban in September 2012 highlighted the lack of security in the city. In the wake of the attack, the city elders begged ISAF for additional protection, while having local residents check their weapons out from the armory for at least twelve hours a day and cancelling all off-base liberty.
Under the supervision of ISAF, members of Bastion have also been integrated into the Afghan Local Police, a group of concerned citizens who have banded together to form anti-Taliban militias.
“If you ask around, everybody now claims to be a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine, even if they’re sitting outside their cans at noon in PT gear,” Captain Macintyre said. “But the important thing is that they have a sense of ownership for the security situation. Even if they’re being paid to do absolutely nothing, it still keeps them from going to work for the insurgents.”
Though some have praised the NATO approach, the U.S. Army responded to a similar wave of attacks in neighboring Kandahar Airfield by declaring the area part of the Continental United States (CONUS).
While the Army decided to leave KAF unincorporated for tax reasons, like Puerto Rico, there is already a push in the U.S. Congress to declare it a state, led by Senator Colonel Munro Brady (Republican—BAF).