The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Nearly five years after Marines first kicked in the door in Helmand province, the area remains one Afghanistan’s most violent, according to a new Defense Department report released Monday. In fact, Helmand is home to Afghanistan’s most violent district — Nahr-e Saraj — and eight of the 10 most violent districts overall.
Those details are outlined in a Pentagon publication released for Congress. Nahr-e Saraj was the site of 10 percent of all enemy initiated attacks in Afghanistan from April to October of this year despite being home to less than 1 percent of the country’s population, the report said.
Overall, 30 percent of all enemy-initiated attacks reported from April to October in Afghanistan occurred in Regional Command Southwest, which includes Helmand and Nimroz provinces. Only Regional Command East, which includes Kunar, Nuristan, Nangarhar and other volatile districts, had more attacks reported, with 41 percent of all those documented across the country.
More than 2,500 enemy-initiated attacks were recorded in Afghanistan each month from May to September of this year. That’s comparable to last year, although there was only one month in 2012 — June — with at least 3,000 reported. In 2011, there were at least 3,000 in May, June and July.
Overall, the Pentagon reported that security in populated areas of Afghanistan has improved significantly in 2012 — no surprise for observers who have been tracking details this year. However, the Pentagon also reported that there was a 2 percent increase in enemy-intiated attacks in RC-Southwest over the same period last year.
If you’ve been following the news out of Helmand, the numbers out of RC-Southwest aren’t a surprise. As I reported while embedded with Marine units in October, the Taliban made gains in portions of Sangin and Kajaki districts, in particular, as Afghan forces were put in the lead providing security there this summer.
“It goes back to the question that everyone asks: When we pull out, can the Afghan forces do what needs to be done to secure Helmand province?” said Lt. Col. David Bradney, who commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, in Sangin this summer. “I would tell you that, yes, the Afghan National Security Forces are absolutely capable enough to beat the Taliban.
“It’s all a question of gumption and will,” Bradney said. “Do they have the leadership to force the discipline of action, and the commitment to get their forces into the field and risk, perhaps at times, being unsuccessful, to achieve success?”
The full report is posted online here.