The Times: Don’t measure our Afghan success in number of bodies
In the Times today, Brigadier Doug Chalmers, Commander of Task Force Helmand, challenges the popular media trend of highlighting the numbers of casualties suffered in Afghanistan whilst often failing to mention the many laudable achievements which continue to be made in the country.
The full text of Brigadier Chalmers’ comment piece follows below:
The temperature in Helmand is now soaring in the high 40s. Matthew Parris got that right in his column last Saturday, but I do not recognise the nature of the war he describes.
He uses British casualty figures to signal a lack of success in Afghanistan.These deaths are all too real to us here in Helmand and will be even more so to our soldiers’ next of kin at home. But these statistics represent neither success nor failure in this complex counterinsurgency.
I would like to offer an alternative view that will not define victory in isolation, but might provide greater insight into the nature of success. Our aim is one of UK national security: to provide an environment in which the legitimate authorities in Afghanistan can govern and prevent that country from again becoming a haven for international terrorists.
Increasingly, the main effort of British forces is on mentoring the Afghan forces and providing security to their flanks during operations. An ever more professional and confident Afghan National Army is firmly in the driving seat in both planning and executing operations against the insurgents.
The Afghan perception of security, rather than the Western view, is what matters. During independent polling of the Helmandi population,locals were asked to list their concerns in order of priority. Results in April last year showed that security was their second-highest concern. However, a recent poll showed that security had fallen to fifth and that 90 per cent of respondents believe that security is now “good” or “very good”.
Security along routes is a key focus of our efforts. To improve freedom of movement, more than 240km of roads have been asphalted and 15 bridges built. These bridges link rural villages with the main towns and markets.
Over the past year, Afghan civilian incomes in Helmand have increased by a fifth and Lashkar Gah airport now has four commercial flights per week, which it is hoped will develop business opportunities still further.
Afghans now say that education is their top priority — a fact I find profoundly satisfying. In Helmand there were just 47 schools open in 2007; there are now 164 and more being built. More than 121,000 students are now registered for school and nearly a third of them are girls.
While there are still significant problems, there are also significant achievements. We should take pride in our contribution in enabling the Afghans to keep their people safe.
So no, Mr Parris, the effort is not beyond us.
Brigadier Doug Chalmers is Commander, Task Force Helmand