Lance Cpl. Joseph D. Ramirez, a rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, crosses an irrigation ditch with some help from an Afghan Uniformed Police patrolman. The Marines and AUP have partnered in recent weeks to show a strong, unified presence in the area. (DoD Photo by Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde)
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Afghanistan (January 22, 2012) — Musa Qal’eh, once terrorized by insurgents, now shines as a symbol of progress in the province, thanks to the hard work and dedication of Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan officials, Afghan security forces, Marines and sailors of the 2nd Marine Division (Forward), and other coalition partners.
They have worked together to eliminate the insurgent threat in the area, and local Afghan officials have tightened security and invested in infrastructure and education, successfully laying a strong foundation for years to come.
“Before, the security circle was very limited,” said Naimatullah Sameen, district governor of Musa Qal’eh. “Nobody could walk around confidently in the bazaar. Up to one kilometer around us, it was not possible to walk around. There was no coordination among government authorities, and we were in a very vulnerable position. We did operations in the north, south, west and east. We expanded security, established (checkpoints), helped people, and more than 30 kilometers the security has been expanded.”
The district’s bazaar saw an increase in trade as residents began to feel safe in the area. According to Sameen, approximately 2,000 shops are now open, providing jobs and a renewed confidence in the district’s economy. Upon the established base of security, windows of opportunity and progress opened to local citizens.
“In Musa Qal’eh district, before there was security, there was no education either,” said Sameen. “As we have improved security, education has been improved. Education establishes the foundation of a society.”
Education has taken flight in Musa Qal’eh during the last year. Afghan children are required to help their families harvest crops throughout the year, causing inconsistencies in the student reporting process and leading to inaccurate student attendance statistics. This year, however, teachers and education directors identified the most reliable times of the year to count students. Improvement in the student reporting process from the provincial to district level has led to a more accurate record of student attendance.
“Illiterate people don’t know that (someone) might be tricking them,” said Sameen. “We tried hard in the section of education so that people would know about (corruption).”
Currently there are 53 registered teachers educating 2,436 students within the 650-square-mile district. The increased interest in education has led to the current construction of a new primary school, which will join the five existing primary schools and two high schools already operating.
Schools aren’t the only things being built in the district. Flood walls are being constructed to divert rising water levels from residential areas and roads are being paved to increase the freedom of movement for local residents. With paved roads, the people of Musa Qal’eh are able to reach their provincial government in the city of Lash Kar Gah and improve the value of their goods by providing the markets with quality produce, unbruised by the formerly bumpy roads.
The pinnacle of infrastructure improvements made in the district is the recent completion of the Musa Qal’eh Wadi Crossing. During the winter months, water levels of the nearby wadi, or seasonal river, rise, disabling travel and cutting off residents of Musa Qal’eh from the local government center and markets. Prior to its completion, farmers attempted to ford the river in vehicles, often risking their lives to ferry their harvested goods to market. The two, 60-meter spans which make up the crossing are comprised of approximately 63 concrete slabs and allow Musa Qal’eh residents to sell their goods at market and conduct business at the district’s government center year-round.
“We have had a lot of achievements in Musa Qal’eh district,” said Yar Mohammad, the deputy district governor of Musah Qal’eh. “In Musa Qal’eh district, which was in two portions before because of the river, the bridge project is a very big project because it is uniting both sides of Musa Qal’eh. People are very happy, and they come and sit with us and tell us this is one of the successful and fundamental projects. I can say confidently that the Musa Qal’eh district has come to a very united place.”
All of the changes in the Musa Qal’eh district are leading to the ultimate goal of transitioning security control to Afghan forces. In 2011, local Afghan officials began taking the steps needed to achieve that goal in the future.
“The district community councils have begun taking over the (development) projects,” said Roy, Utah, native Staff Sgt. Joseph Spencer, the development chief and education officer for the Civil-Military Operations section of 2nd Marine Division (Forward). “Elders will (now) go to the Afghan government before going to the Marines. The (council) will then have a shura to talk about the best way to fund the project. The people are going to GIRoA and asking for things, and GIRoA is producing and providing (support) without our help.”
For more information on progress in Musa Qal’eh and the rest of Southwestern Afghanistan, view video interviews with Afghan officials at “New series gives voice to Afghan leaders” or visit the division’s unit page at the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System.
Editor’s note: Second Marine Division (Forward) heads Task Force Leatherneck, the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest), and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.