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Security in Helmand allows for Afghan voting

CPL. Aaron Rooks, MEB-Afghanistan / TF Leatherneck

HELMAND PROVINCE, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – 08-25-2009

About 100 Afghans from the Washir District voted Aug. 20 for presidential and provincial candidates.

The locals casted their ballots at a polling station centrally located near Camps Leatherneck and Bastion and the three major villages of Karwanagah, Shownakay and Shand.

“The elections are good,” said Mullah, a young man who lives in the district. “The people want to take part in this election, and they want to choose a new president for themselves.”

The voting site was cleared early in the morning by a platoon of Marines from Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan Headquarters Group and members of the Afghan National Army from Camp Juno.

Once the polling site was established, the Marines moved to provide perimeter security away from the voting site in order to enable the election to be a completely Afghan-run process.

“We wanted to make sure we were very careful in not showing or even building the perception that we were influencing the outcome of this election in any way,” said Maj. Brian Russell, the executive officer of MEB-Afghanistan Headquarters Group. “The ANA, they were responsible for the on-site polling center security.”

Russell said the Marines stayed in the area to provide some of the combat enablers that the ANA don’t have at this time, although they were never needed.

Some of the Marines, who were located at a patrol base off in the distance, said they expected no more than five locals to come out and vote. They were shocked when they learned the number had grown to more than 75 by mid-day.

“We showed success the minute the ANA showed up,” Russell said. “Just providing the opportunity for the Afghans to vote was the measure of success we were looking for. We knew coming into this that not a lot of people were even aware there was an election today, so I think just by having some people show up this morning … that’s a victory for us today and certainly for the Afghan government.”

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