Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What's Happening in Marja?

I read a recent report that said the residents of Marja are not leaving. Another said that they have been told by the Taliban that there will be no fight; the Taliban will put down their guns and wait until the Americans have left, and then they will punish those Marjans who aided them. It is not at all clear what is actually happening.

Juan Cole discusses:

McClatchy's Saeed Shah reports that only about 1200 residents have fled the Afghan city of Marjah in Nad Ali district, ahead of a major NATO/ Afghan invasion planned for later this week. The city of 80,000 is controlled by some 2000 Taliban fighters and there are many heroin labs, the profits of which help to support the Taliban.

The lucrative poppy crops grown in this region are all that is left of a 1950s & 1960s US irrigation scheme that went bad, and Marjah and environs were nicknamed "Little America."

The refusal of locals to leave in any large numbers may be what prompted US commanders to begin telling the people of Marjahto 'stay inside their homes' and stay out of the way of the fighting. This message is a 180 degree reversal of the earlier message, that locals should leave.


CBS News reports embedded with the US Marines outside Marjah, to the southwest of the Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah. This report gives the impression that substantial numbers of civilians have left or are leaving, but this assertion appears not to be true.


The NATO / Kabul plan is to chase the Taliban out of Marjah, win local hearts and minds, and garrison it with Afghan army troops in the aftermath to ensure that the Taliban do not return. This plan requires that the operation not do so much damage to the city and kill so many locals that they are alienated in the long term. It also requires trustworthy Afghan troops who won't just abuse their authority and who are good enough war fighters to fend off a Taliban return.

That seems to me to be assuming a bit much.

Local police in Halmand, at least, are proving a disappointment to NATO because of their high rates of drug use. Troops found using heroin are immediately drummed out, but a local police commander admits that he cannot be so severe with the hashish users, since if he fired them all, nobody would be left.

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