Helmand - Program for Culture and Conflict Studies

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Helmand Data - Content

Helmand Province

Governor: Hayatullah Hayat

Population Estimate: 940,200

Area in Square Kilometers: 58,584

Capital: Lashkar Gah

Districts: Dishu, Garmser, Reg, Nad Ali, Nawai Barakzai, Lashkar Gah, Nahrisarraj (Gereshk), Sangin, Washer, Naw Zad, Musa Qala, Kajaki, Baghran.

Ethnic Groups: Pashtun majority, Baluch minority in the south, Nalaquin (in Pashtun, "migrant" and usually eastern Pashtun tribes).

Tribal Groups: 32% Barakzai, 16% Noorzai, 9% Alokzai, 5.2% Eshaqzai.

Religious Groups: Sunni, Shi'a.

Occupation of Population: Farming, and some Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, potential for Fisheries.1

Crops/Livestock: Opium, Tobacco, Sugar Beets, Cotton, Sesame, Wheat, Mung Beans, Maize, Onions, Nuts, Sun Flowers, Onions, Potato, Tomato, Cauliflower, Peanut, Apricot, Grape, melon, Donkey, Sheep, Goats, Chickens, Cows, Camels.

Literacy Rate: 4%2

Total # of Educational Institutions: 813

Primary Roads: 33% of Helmand's roads are not passable during certain seasons, and in some areas there are no roads;  The ring road passes through Helmand from Kandahar to Delaram; Highway 611 is a major North-Southroute that goes from Lashkar Gah to Sangin.4

Electricity: Potential to become more extensive should the Kajaki Dam become fullt operational; In the Sangin District electricity is available to 90% of the population, and Musa Qala residents also enjoy adequate access to electricity.

Telecommunications: Afghan Wireless Communication Company (GSM 900/1800), Etisalat Afghanistan (GSM 900/1800), MTN Afghanistan (GSM 900/1800), Telecom Development Company Afghanistan Ltd. (GSM 900).5

??Media: Television- Lashkar Gah TV Station; Radio- Helmand Radio, Saboon Radio, Samoon Radio; Newspapers- Helmand Journal, bost, Sehat Palwashy, Bagree.

Sources/Availability of Drinking Water: 68% have direct access to a water source, only 3% have safe drinking water via Rivers and Wells. Approximately 25% of the population travels an hour or more to a water source.

Water Sources: Rivers- Helmand, Musa Qala; Irrigation Canals- Boghra Irrigations Canal, Nahr e Sarak Boghra, Grishk Boghra, Nawa Main Canal, Nawa Drainage Canal, Shamalan Canal, Darwishan Canal; Karez- Barakzai Karez (Lashkar Gah), Karez Koka, Land Karez, Haji Abdur Rashid Khan Karex, Karyza; Garmsir- 100 Wells; Gereshk- 1,000 Shallow Wells; Sangin- Over 6,000 Shallow Wells.

Topographical Features: Desert in the south, rising hills in the north; The fertile Helmand River Valley runs the length of the province.6

Tribal Map - Thumbnail
Tribal Map Thumbnail
Helmand - Content

Helmand Provincial Overview

Helmand Province is located in southern Afghanistan. Helmand borders Baluchistan in the south, Kandahar and Uruzgan in the east, Nimroz in the west, and Farah and Ghor in the north. The topography is composed of deserts in the south, hills in the north, and the fertile Helman River Valley along the length of the province.

The population of over 1.4 million are primarily Pashtun with a Baluch minority in the south. Major tribal groups include Barakzai, Noorzai, Alokzai, and Eshaqzai. Primary occupations within Helmand are agriculture - namely poppy farming, which remains an Achilles Heel in developing a sustainable security apparatus.

Governor Hayatullah Hayat was appointed as Governor of Helmand in june 2015. He was formerly governor of Maidan Wardak and Helmand provinces. He holds multiple degrees and worked with UN anti-mine organizations.7

Taliban Shadow Governor: Abdul Rahim (aka Mullah Manan) - Ali is believed to have been the shadow governor for both Helmand and Mustaqim provinces. According to Afghan and coalition forces, Rahim was killed in an airstrike in August 2016.14 The Taliban, however, denies his death.15


Helmand Map


Human Terrain


The Alakozai (Alikozai; Alokzai) form the majority of the population in Sangin District. They belong to the Durrani confederation, and can be further divided into the Khalozai (or Khan Khel), the Yarizai, the Surkani, the Kotezai, the Dadozai, the Khanizai, the Daolatzai (which are also found in the North of Afghanistan due to forced relocations in centuries previous), the Nasozai, and the Bashozai. The Alokzai people stretch from Farah to Kandahar, constitute a majority in the Arghandab District of Kandahar.


The Alizai mainly inhabit the North of Helmand, particularly Baghran, Musa Qala, Naw Zad, and Kajaki districts. They form a major branch of the Panjpay Durrani Pashtuns with two main sub-tribes, Jalozai and Hasanzai.  Clashes between the Jalozai and Hasanzai have been a major source of tension in northern Helmand province.  Present Governor Sher Mohammad Akhundzada is Jalozai while Abdul Wahid, a major figure in Baghran district, Helmand province is Hasanzai.  The feud between Abdul Wahid and the father of Sher Mohammad dates back to the Jihad period.


The Baluch, thought to number over a million in Afghanistan, are an Indo-Iranian ethnic group spread over Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. Significant numbers also exist abroad. In Pakistan, Baluchi independence groups have look fought with Islamabad over the revenues from natural resources in Baluchistan. The capital of Pakistani Baluchistan is Quetta, where many of the Taliban are thought to have fled after their fall from power, but Kalat, further south, has traditionally been the seat of the Baluch Khans. The Baluch are overwhelmingly but not entirely Sunni Muslims. Their power-structures, based on the khan, are generally perceived to be more concentrated than those of the more fractious Pashtuns. In Afghanistan they are primarily nomadic, roaming the southernmost districts of the three southernmost provinces. In Helmand they are prominent in the Dishu and Garmseer districts. View the Baluch Tribal Tree


The Barakzai Zirak Durranis mainly inhabit the East of Helmand, particularly Nahrisarraj, Lashkar Gah, and Naway-i Barakzai districts. They rose to prominence with Dost Mohammad Shah (the British East India Company’s adversary in the first Anglo-Afghan War) and furnished a string of kings through the current aspirant to the throne, Heir Apparent Ahmad Shah. Accordingly, they are one of the most respected tribes in the country.


The Barech Durrani Pashtuns mainly inhabit Dishu District. There appears to be little ethnographic literature on the Barech beyond the observations of some 19th and early 20th century British civil and military personnel (see Adamec, Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan, Vol. 5, Kandahar and South-Central Afghanistan” 1980, Akademische Druck-u. Verlaganstalt, Graz-Austria).  Despite the Barech claims of Durrani kinship, there is reason to believe that the Barech have a different ethnic origin, perhaps Baloch, and transferred their ethnic/tribal identity during a shift in the power balance between the Kingdom of Afghanistan and the Emirate of Qalat.


Most numerous in the Northeast of Helmand, the Ishaqzai are strongest in Musa Qala, Sangin, and Nawzad. They are a subset of the Durrani confederation. There are also many in Farah and Herat provinces. They can be broken down into the Misrikhel (Khankhel), the Mandinzai, and the Hawazai. In the past, they were derogatorily referred to as “Sagzai,” or “vegetable people."8


The Kharoti Powindah Ghilzais are Kuchi nomads. The Kharoti clan is the second largest Ghilzai Pashtun tribal group. Generally, they do not cooperate with anti-coalition militias or participate in their activities. Their political stance and support for the government is in part, at least, due to their rivalry with the Suleimankhel and the Waziris.  Notable members of the Kharoti clan include Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Harakat, both of Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin (HIG).  Overall, however, the Kharoti are not supportive of HIG. Former Paktika provincial governor, Ghulab Mangal, considered the Kharoti among the most reliable of Ghilzai tribal groups.9

Kuchis are most often Pashtuns, but occasionally some are of non-Pashtun ethnicity, such as Baluch. To be a Kuchi is not who one is, or what one does, but what one is. More than a vocation and less than a race, the Kuchi are more appropriately thought of as a caste of nomadic herdsmen. Their four main animals are sheep, goats, camels and donkeys. They cross boundaries with ease. They have a very high illiteracy rate.10 Involved in a constant and centuries old range war with the Hazara, the Kuchis have moved across Afghanistan and Pakistan for generations. Dispersed and well-traveled, they often receive news from distant relations in far-away provinces relatively quickly. The self-declared “leader” of the Kuchis is one Hashmat Ghani Ahmadzai. Partially settled by the king and the following socialist governments, they were strong supporters of the Taliban, both ideologically and pragmatically, as they came into possession of many Hazara lands thanks to the repression of the Shi’ite Hazara by the Taliban. There are estimated to be around three million Kuchi in Afghanistan, with at least 60% remaining fully nomadic and over 100,000 displaced in the South of Afghanistan due to drought in the past few years.11


The Noorzai Panjpai Durrani Pashtuns primarily inhabit Garmseer and Washer districts, in the Northwest and Southeast of the province. Although usually categorized and self-identified as Panjpay Durranis, many Zirak Durranis dismiss the Noorzai as Ghalji or Ghilzai, not Durrani at all.  At this point in time, it is not clear whether this is a long-standing belief or has arisen out the turmoil of the past three decades, particularly the close partnership between the Noorzai and the Ghalji-dominated Taliban leadership.  Given the numbers and importance of the Noorzai in the south, this attitude may have consequences for long-term tribal politics.


Part of the Ghilzai confederation, the Suleimankhel is one of the largest sub-tribes. The bias of some sub-tribes toward the Taliban in part may be explained by their proximity to the Pakistan border and the influx of insurgents and the radical politics. They have been allied with the Hotaki in the past, and their traditional rivals include the Karoti.12 Principal sub-divisions of the Suleimankhel include the Alizai, Sulemanzai, and Jalalzai.  Other sub-divisions include the Alikhel, the Nizamkhel, and the Shakhel. It is interesting to note that the Alikhel sub-tribe, which primarily lives in the northwest of Paktika, has been more cooperative with the central government and coalition forces.  The Nizamkhel and Shakhel also remain more supportive of the government, which may be explained in part by their rivalry with the Jalalzai.13 View the Suleimankhel Tribal Tree


Security Landscape

General Level of Security

Security in Helmand Province is extremely poor. The Province has long suffered from serious infiltration of anti-government forces. Opium cultivation and production forms the vast majority of the province’s income, and almost every family is involved in the pernicious trade.

The districts of primary concern are...


Bordering on Kandahar Province and Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, Garmser has seen a number of cross-border raids. The district center was overrun in November of 2007, and a number of other Afghan security force checkpoints have been attacked. In April of 2008, US Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit moved into Garmser and launched a series of assaults against insurgent and criminal positions. The Marines initial objective was to secure the roadway that connects Garmser with Pakistan, but after a few days of skirmishes the Marines were tasked to stay longer and help quell insurgent activity throughout the district. By the following month, the Marines succeeded in restoring security to a large portion of Garmser and residents held the first community shura in years.


Scene of intense fighting since 2006, Greshk remains a highly volatile area. A NATO offensive launched in September 2007, dubbed Operation 'Palk Wahel' ('Sledgehammer Hit), targeted Taliban positions in the upper Gershk Valley. The operation followed the insurgent abduction of Greshk’s district governor the month before. IEDs, suicide bombings, and ambushes continue to plague the district. NATO forces have launched a series of targeted strikes against Greshk insurgent leaders, including two high profile operations in November 2008 that killed Mullah Asad and Mulah Mashar.

Musa Qala

Located in northern Helmand and is one of the most unstable districts in Helmand. Taliban fighters overran the district in retaliation for the series of airstrikes that targeted their leadership in early 2007. The Taliban occupied the district for nearly 10-months before a joint Afghan-NATO operation (OP Mar Kadad Snake pit) flushed out the Taliban from the district center. President Karzai appointed Mullah Abdul Salaam, a former Musa Qala based Taliban commander, as the new district chief after Salaam laid down his arms prior to OP Snakepit. Salaam has been the target of Taliban assassins who attempted to kill him at least four times since his appointment as district governor. On January 1 2009, Taliban gunmen raided Salaam’s compound killing 20 of his body guards but Salaam was not in the compound at the time of the attack. On February, an IED blast targeting Salaam’s convoy killed six of his bodyguards.


The capital of Helmand has endured sporadic periods of violence over the last two years. Suicide bombings and IEDs have both infrequently occurred in Lashkargah. During the late hours of October 12 2008, an estimated170 insurgents attacked Lashkargah from three sides resulting in widespread fighting that lasted half of a day. NATO airstrikes pounded insurgent positions killing scores of fighters and repulsed the attack.


Sandwiched between Musa Qala, Sangin and Baghran districts, the Kajaki district is home to the legendary Kajaki dam complex. Decades of neglect and warfare has left most of the complex in need of a serious overhaul. International efforts to restore the dam’s critical turbine components has come in spurts and the high level of insecurity in Kajaki and surrounding districts has further stalled the dam’s refurbishment.

At the end of September 2008, NATO forces traveled 180-kilometers by treacherous roadway for five days to deliver a new 200-ton hydroelectric turbine to the Kajaki dam complex. As many as 4,000 NATO and Afghan forces took part in the operation (Operation Terminator 2) which included a 100-vehicle convoy and a second decoy convoy that lured insurgents off the turbine’s actual route. British engineers carved a secondary roadway for the turbine’s actual path through mountain passes and dry river beds and labeled it the biggest clearance operation undertaken by the British military since World War II. When complete, the Kajaki dam will provide electricity to a further 1.9 million residents in southern Afghanistan.


The Upper Sangin Valley has seen heavy fighting since 2006. US and British forces pushed out large numbers of insurgents from the Valley during a three-day operation in April 2007 following months of large scale engagements. Some security improvements in Sangin were visible by the summer of 2008. The main bazaar in Sangin is open, police check points have been constructed and the town’s main mosqueis being renovated. Security outside the town’s center remains elusive as insurgents and drug traffickers continue to launch IED and mine attacks, ambushes and the occasional suicide bombing. British forward operating bases north and south of Sangin’s district center are attacked nearly every day. On February 7, over 700 British Royal Marines partook in Operation Diesel in the Sangin Valley, destroying scores of secret drug labs and bomb factories. Officials later estimated the raw opium and chemicals destroyed during the raid at around £50 million.


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References - Menu

1 Helmand is among the few provinces where 90% of farming is done via mechanical means. National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment 2007/2008, A Profile of Afghanistan, Page 50.

2 Afghanistan Human Development Report 2007, United Nations Development Program, 2007, 164.

3 Reconstructing Lashkar Gah, UK Ministry of Defense: Defense Policy and Business News, June 25, 2009, at Link.

4 Provincial Development Plan, Helmund: Provincial Profile, at Link.

5 GSM Association, GSMWorld.

6 Afghanistan Human Development Report 2007, United Nations Development Program, 2007, 166.

7 Khaama News, at Link, Link.

8 Ludwig W. Adamec, Historical and Political Gazetteer of Afghanistan, Farah and Southwestern Afghanistan, Graz: Akademische Druck, 1973, pg 128.

9 US State Department Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team Political Officer Reporting, 2004.

10 “Afghanistan,” 2007 CIA World Factbook, at Link; Marc Herold, “War and Modernity: Hard Times for Afghanistan’s Kuchi Nomads,” Cursor, at Link.

11 “Afghan Nomads Say U.S. Bombing Killed Nine,” Associated Press, September 25, 2003, at Link; Paul Garwood, “Poverty, violence put Afghanistan's fabled Kuchi nomads on a road to nowhere,” Associated Press, May 14, 2006, at Link.

12 US Department of State Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team Political Officer Reporting, 2004.

13 US Department of State Gardez Provincial Reconstruction Team Political Officer Reporting, 2004.

14 Tolo News, at Link.

15 Long War Journal, at Link.

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Material contained herein is made available for the purpose of peer review and discussion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of the Navy or the Department of Defense.  Most of the content available on this website was updated as of March 2017.