British Ambassador to Afghanistan, Sir Richard Stagg, meets the police chief of southern Helmand province, Maj. Gen. Abdul Qayum Baqizoi, aboard Camp Leatherneck, Helmand province, Afghanistan, on April 2. Baqizoi was later sacked following a deadly Taliban offensive. (Lance Cpl. Darien J. Bjorndal / Marine Corps)
Less than a month after Marines ended their mission advising Afghan National Police in Helmand province, the Afghan interior ministry has replaced the provincial police chief central to the Marines’ final mentoring efforts.
Marine officials confirmed reports that Brig. Gen. Abdul Qayum Baqizoi was removed July 14, with former Helmand security chief Brig. Gen. Juma Gul Hemat taking his place. The roughly 20 Marines with the Afghan National Police Advisor Team left ANP headquarters at Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital, and returned to Camp Leatherneck on June 27, according to a Marine Corps news release. Baqizoi had served at the post only a few months prior to his firing.
According to the Afghan English-language newspaper Khaama Press, Baqizoi was removed following a deadly Taliban offensive. Reuters reported June 25 that up to 800 Taliban fighters had launched an offensive in Sangin, a historically violent district north of Lashkar Gah.
The news service quoted Baqizoi as saying that 13 policemen, eight Afghan National Army troops and 100 Taliban fighters were killed in a five-day battle, as well as about 40 civilians.
The Marine Corps did not offer comment on Baqizoi’s removal. But during a Marine Corps Times visit with the ANPAT in Lashkar Gah in May, the unit’s commander, Col. Bill McCollough, spoke of meeting with Baqizoi daily for lunch to mentor him and discuss leadership of the ANP.
“[Baqizoi has] got some very advanced thinking on the role of police in a society,” McCollough said during the visit.
Among initiatives that Baqizoi had instituted were a weekly accountability parade at Lashkar Gah designed to allow leaders to inspect the ranks and demonstrate the strength of the ANP to the local population. He also pushed to hire more female police officers.
Lashkar Gah itself was secure as the advising team closed down its mission, said Marine Col. Morgan Mann, director of Security Force Assistance for Regional Command-Southwest Afghanistan.
“As the ANPAT withdrew, there were no significant acts of violence and the ANP are in control of police checkpoints there,” he said.
Mann said the team’s decision to withdraw from the region followed the successful June 14 Afghan presidential runoff election.
Lashkar Gah was one of the first districts to transition back to Afghan authority in July 2011. During the visit to the police headquarters compound in May, Marines and British troops with the ANPAT pointed out indicators of stability and local investment in the region: a septic system maintained twice a day, local public works projects built by outgoing officials, and even gardens.
Mann said the biggest challenges for the ANP as the Marines departed was the work ahead of them to maintain equipment, develop training and increase credibility among the locals. Budget concerns and logistics also remained hurdles, he said.
McCollough noted that establishing a secure environment where police could focus on law enforcement rather than counter-terrorism was also key.
The question of security, like the question of stability in leadership, remains open in Lashkar Gah. While ANPAT officials said in May that violence in the region had been moderate — reports of several civilians injured or killed every week — the recent Taliban offensive included at least one large-scale deadly attack in the provincial capital.
On July 21, a suicide bomber attacked a police convoy in Lashkar Gah, leaving a policeman and a civilian dead and 15 more wounded, the AP reported.
Mann said U.S. and allied troops planned to support the development of the police corps past the end of combat operations in 2014.