Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander, ISAF, joined Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a visit to Helmand Province Jan. 2.
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Jan. 2, 2010) — On Saturday, President Hamid Karzai paid his first visit to Helmand since June 2007. He was accompanied by General Stanley McChrystal, International Security Assistance Force commander, his three security Ministers for Defence, National Security and the Interior, and the Minister for Local Governance.
The President spent a full day in Helmand, where he was hosted by Provincial Govenor Gulab Mangal. He visited first Lashkar Gah and then Nawa District to speak with elders, soldiers and government officials.
The message he brought was that the Afghan National Security Forces are growing stronger and working with international forces to improve security in the province.
He repeatedly urged the citizens of Helmand to play their part, telling a shura of elders in Lashkar Gah: “The Afghan National Security Forces will push the fighting out of Helmand. When Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited he said that ISAF would train thousands to join the Afghan forces. But you must help them by sending your sons to enlist.”
He also spoke about reintegration at the shura: “I tell our upset Afghan brothers that they should come forward and talk.”
In Lashkar Gah, the President chaired a meeting on reconstruction and development, attended by Governor Mangal, the Directors of each Ministry Department and representatives of the international donor community. The President heard how the Governor’s Food Zone Programme contributed to a 33 percent reduction in opium poppy cultivation last year, by helping farmers grow wheat and other legal crops.
At the end of the meeting, the President reaffirmed the government’s commitment to improving the lives of Helmandis: “My government will ensure that Helmand receives more funding for reconstruction and improved services.”
After joining elders for lunch in Lashkar Gah, the President and General McChrystal flew south to the district of Nawa. There they met Afghan Army soldiers who work and live with U.S. Marines in the district forward operating base.
The Nawa District Governor took President Karzai on a tour of the town, where he visited government projects and prayed in a local mosque.
Speaking after the visit General McChrystal said, “Today brought the government of Afghanistan, its security forces and local leaders together in an area that will be important to the future of this country. ISAF is happy to partner in outreach efforts that expand these relationships and improve our own efforts to protect the Afghan people and help them develop their capacity for security, governance and economic development.”
The ANSF provided an effective ring of security for the visit. During lunch, an explosion was heard from a point 10km away in the Bolan desert, west of the city. This did not interrupt or affect the visit.