Over the past 12 months, and principally as a result of the uplift in US forces announced by President Obama in December 2009, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troop numbers in Helmand province have risen from around 7,700 to over 20,000. In the light of this increase in the resources available to them, ISAF commanders are considering options for rebalancing forces in the province in order to ensure that international troops can have the greatest effect in countering the threat posed by the insurgency and protecting the civilian population. As a first step, General McChrystal, Commander ISAF, and General Carter, Commander Regional Command (South), have agreed that responsibility for the security of Musa Qaleh district, in the Upper Helmand Valley, will be transferred from UK to US forces over the coming weeks.
Ministers have been consulted throughout ISAF’s decision-making process and we fully support the transfer of Musa Qaleh as the logical next stage in adjusting the distribution of security responsibility in Helmand, as the US establishes its presence in the north of the province. The transfer will allow UK troops to be redeployed from Musa Qaleh to central Helmand, the most heavily populated area of the province, where the majority of our troops are already based. The thickening of our force density in central Helmand will allow us to continue the progress over the last 12 months in increasing our emphasis on partnering and training the Afghan national security forces and will reaffirm our central role in delivering General McChrystal’s population-focused counter-insurgency approach, both of which are key elements of ISAF’s strategy to defeat the insurgency and build a stable and secure Afghanistan.
Further changes are likely in due course, as the ISAF force laydown continues to evolve to increase the presence of ISAF and Afghan forces across the main population centres in the province. We will make further announcements at the appropriate point as decisions are made.
UK forces first deployed to Musa Qaleh in summer 2006. The history of our involvement since then reflects the complexity of the campaign, but our objectives throughout have remained clear: to protect the population against the insurgency and to reinforce the legitimate Afghan Government. Over the period in which we have been responsible for security there, 23 British service personnel have lost their lives in the district. However, through their professionalism and courage, and that of their colleagues, insurgent activity in the district centre has been contained, the authority of the legitimate Afghan Government has been reinforced, and there has been steady progress on governance and development, especially in the last 12 months, as the daily lives of its citizens have been improved. While responsibility for security will now transfer to US forces, the UK will remain committed to building on the progress of development through the ongoing activities of the UK-led Helmand provincial reconstruction team in Musa Qaleh.