News - Afghanistan
Nato leaders in southern Helmand province are not expecting to end the insurgent menace before the foreign forces depart despite there being another two years before they are slated to leave.
Isaf Regional Commander for the southwest Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus admitted that the Taliban will continue to pose a threat to the province after 2014.
"I think they'll be a challenge. But I think they're going to meet a challenge as well – it's going to be the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF]," he said when asked last week if the Taliban will still be a threat in Helmand after 2014.
After 11 years of Nato fighting insurgents in the province and almost three years of an extra 'surge' of US troops, the Taliban launched a devastating attack on Helmand's Camp Bastion – considered one of the largest Nato bases in the country – raising questions about the ability of the fledgling Afghan army to take over in two years time.
One resident who lives in a village near the base voiced the fear of the local residents – ANSF will not be able to do what Nato forces are just managing to do.
"If the foreign forces withdraw from here, the Afghan security forces will not be able to provide security here and Taliban will return," he told TOLOnews.
But, as Gurganus said on Thursday, the Afghan forces are already facing that challenge.
"I don't think that there is an ANA [Afghan National Army] checkpoint, a police station, an army or marine base, or a Nato base that isn't under the threat of attack," he said at Camp Bastion.
One month ago, at least 15 insurgents attacked the camp destroyed or damaging nearly $200 million worth of planes and equipment, making it one of the biggest offensives conducted by the Taliban in terms of material damage since the Nato-led war began in 2001.
However, such attacks are not the only hazard Afghan forces will have to contend with.
As TOLOnews travelled through the area around Camp Bastion, it was clear that hundreds of hectares of arid land is being cultivated for poppy, ostensibly to harvest for illicit opiates.
When asked about the poppy fields around the base, US commander in Helmand Capt. Chris Polidora said that eradication of poppy is the Afghan government's responsibility, although Nato is ready to help if asked.
"As far as I know, poppy cultivation hasn't started. [But] that is a government of Afghanistan problem that needs to be dealt with. If required, then we will give aid but right now I don't see the signs of poppy cultivations at this point," Polidora said Thursday.
However, one farmer interview by TOLOnews admitted poppy was the crop of choice.
"We cultivate poppy here. If don't do that, we cannot earn enough money from wheat harvests," he said Thursday.
UN Office of Drugs and Crime estimates that over 90 percent of the world's illegal opiates are supplied by Afghanistan, with most production coming from Helmand.
There are between 18,000 and 24,000 Afghan National Army soldiers in Helmand fighting insurgents alongside around 8,000 US and 9,500 British soldiers.