Division Commander Reflects on Afghanistan Tour
By Jian DeLeon
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 4, 2011 When Operation Moshtarak in Marja, Afghanistan, was not meeting its security and development goals according to plan, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills was brought in to help in moving the situation along.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), addresses the crowd during a transfer of authority ceremony on Camp Leatherneck, March 26, 2011. Mills relinquished command of Regional Command Southwest to Maj. Gen. John Toolan, commanding general of II MEF (Fwd). U.S. Marine Corps file photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Brian Jones
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Mills served as commander of the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command Southwest in Afghanistan from April 2010 until last month. He now serves as the commanding officer of 1st Marine Division.
During his tenure, Mills kept intense pressure on insurgents while nurturing close working relationships with Afghan allies in Helmand and Nimruz provinces, ensuring their involvement and commitment in developing national security.
“The year that we were there, I think we saw a remarkable change in the situation on the ground,” Mills said during a “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable yesterday. “I inherited a situation that was improving every day.”
Mills’ eclectic command was made up mainly of British forces, with support from forces from Georgia, Estonia, Denmark, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Tonga.
“During the year that we were there, I saw a remarkable increase in the capability and confidence of the Afghan security forces -- both the police and the army -- and when we left, the Afghan army forces were about three brigades, all capable of semi-independent operation,” Mills said.
Among the successes of Operation Moshtarak were the force’s victories against insurgent operations, pushing them back and separating them from society to lessen their influence on the population and empower the burgeoning security force.
“Highlights of our time over there were the culmination of the battle of Marja, the battle of Sangin, and several other fights that took place along the Helmand River to push the insurgents away from the final areas they occupied [and to] separate them from the population and reduce the impact that they would have,” he said.
The victory at Marja was important for several reasons, Mills explained. From a psychological standpoint, it is Helmand’s provincial capital, so holding the city meant the insurgents had less of an influence on the Pashtu community and general population. It also served as a great resource of funding the insurgency, as Marja sits in an area with a high volume of drug production.
By targeting areas where drug production was taking place, Mills said, his forces slowly but successfully pushed insurgents out of downtown Marja and took the fight to the enemy, building on momentum and turning the tide of battle by getting the insurgents on the defensive. They also worked with local elders to establish a good working relationship with the police force and security forces, he added, and eventually these well-nurtured relationships led to establishing local police forces.
Over time, Mills said, he saw development improve in roads, phone systems and other areas important to infrastructure and self-sustainability, as well as a decrease in poppy growth that undermined insurgents’ opium trade.
The general said he also saw several positive elections take place, including national parliamentary elections in September and five district community councils elected throughout the province. And thanks to an education program, he said, 125,000 students are now enrolled in school, about 20,000 of them female.
And the gains show signs of sustainability, the general said.
“I think some of the indicators that these gains would be long-lasting was the commitment by the Helmand population to the government of Afghanistan, as exemplified by their support of the education initiatives,” he said. “I think that indicated a real investment by the population in the future of the province.”