Christmas is coming to Lashkar Gah

Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, blogs about the start of pre-Christmas activities.

We started some of our pre-Christmas activities this week, and the first was a volleyball competition between the various departments within Lashkar Gah Main Operating Base. Unfortunately, my team of media operations “athletes”, with the competition name “No Comment” and the skills to match, faced the might of the US Marine Corps in our first, and what turned out to be our only, game on Monday.

Media Ops volleyball match

Media Ops volleyball match

We knew that these guys were serious as every team in the competition has a comedy name except our first opponents. For example, we had the “Lash Vegas Superstars”, “Globo Gym Purple Cobras”, “Average Joes” and the “Tartan Army”, to name but a few; our opponents, however, were ominously called 9th Com US Marine Corps, and were every bit as “Top-Gun”- like in their approach to the game as the name would suggest. Needless to say we lost, pretty convincingly actually, but we like to think that we did so in a very British and understated way, and we believe that morally we were the winners!

Lunch with Afghan media

Lunch with Afghan media

We also held our first Afghan Media lunch this week, hosting journalists from the local Lashkar Gah media fraternity. This was a great opportunity to develop our contacts amongst the local media, find out what really makes them tick, and also see what we can do to help them in their day to day role.

During the lunch I had a very interesting conversation with a journalist from Azardi Television about his perception of the Afghan National Police. He was very pleased to announce that he had reported on illegal taxation by Police at a checkpoint on Highway 601 near Lashkar Gah. The local Police Chief saw the report and immediately resolved the problem, disciplining the individuals concerned. The press appear to be starting to find their teeth and are holding the Provincial Government and their organisations to account, which can only assist in stamping out corruption in the long run.

Coincidentally, this week actually heralded the 1st Anniversary of the Helmand Police Training Centre. This is a relatively small organisation that is making a significant difference to the professionalism and perception of the Afghan National Police, and has been heralded by the Americans of an example of best practice.

The centre is run by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, with support from the Royal Military Police, Ministry of Defence Police and Afghan National Police Instructors.

Much has been said in the UK press about the standards of the ANP, with talk of corruption and abuse of power, but the imposition of professional training, combined with persuading the local village elders to encourage their best men to join the police seems to be making a real difference, especially if these same men are returned to their own villages as policemen. Combine this with effective leaders at the top, and a press corps willing to fight corruption and progress is definitely being made.