UK pullout to fuel joblessness: Helmandis
LASHKARGAH (Pajhwok): Residents say they are happy with the withdrawal of British and American troops from southern Helmand province. However, they are concerned about an increase in unemployment and a possible halt to development activities.
The UK ended its 13-year-old combat mission in Afghanistan on Sunday when British and US Marines handed over two huge bases to the Afghan military in Washer district’s Shorab desert.
Housing up to 40,000 military personnel and civilian contractors, the Camp Leatherneck, the largest US base, and the UK’s Camp Bastion together formed the international coalition's regional headquarters for the southwest.
The British forces established the Camp Bastion in 2005 and besides maintaining security; they also provided job opportunities to local residents and participated in development activities.
It is said the UK had so far spent 19 billion pounds in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand, in areas of military costs and reconstruction projects.
Abdul Rauf, a resident of Lashkargah, the provincial capital, told Pajhwok Afghan News that the Afghan government expected much of the foreign aid from the US and the UK, but the assistance seemed to vanish after the withdrawal of their forces.
Happy over the withdrawal of British troops, he said it was feared unemployment would increase and many development projects would stop in Helmand.
“Afghan forces are able to keep security and conduct operations on their own. When there were more than 100 foreign military bases in Helmand, the security situation had not been good as today,” he said.
Another resident, Shamsullah, said the withdrawal of foreign troops would have a negative impact on the security situation because it would allow the Taliban and neighbouring countries to interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs.
He suggested the UK should give Afghanistan a small amount of the expenses it had been incurring on military mission for good governance and creating jobs for the youth.
Qari Hilal, a resident of the Nawa district, said: “It is right that the existing problems in Afghanistan cannot be solved without foreign aid, but there had been problems stemming from the presence of foreign troops.”
He said the withdrawal of foreign troops would leave the rebels with no excuse to continue fighting because they had long been claiming their fight was against foreign troops.
Meanwhile, 215th Maiwand Military Corps deputy commander Gen. Ghulam Farooq Parwani told Pajhwok Afghan News the last group of UK soldiers left the Camp Bastion at the Shorab Base on Sunday.
He said three Afghan National Army (ANA)’s battalions had been deployed to the adjacent Camp Bastion and the Camp Leatherneck, where an airport has also been built.
“Foreign troops would not take part with us in operations in the past as well, but we had some agreements on assistance when needed,” said Parwani.
Maj. Gen. Syed Malook, the 215th Maiwand Military Corps commander, had said the withdrawal of British troops from Helmand would create no security vacuum. He said the Afghan troops had the ability to conduct operations on their own.
In late 2001, the British troops arrived in Afghanistan as part of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban regime and crush Al Qaeda.
Since 2005, the British troops had been stationed at Camp Bastion and their numbers reached 10,000 in 2006. The number of UK troops was reduced to 2500 two years ago when security transition began.
The British troops will leave Afghanistan over the next two months and a small number will remain in Kabul to train Afghan forces beyond 2014. The UK lost 453 soldiers to the Afghan conflict during the past 13 years.
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