February 15th, 2010
05:13 PM ET

Coalition teams meet with tribal elders

WASHINGTON - U.S., British and Afghan officials met with tribal elders in the southern Afghanistan city of Marjah Monday to assure them the international community and Afghan government are committed to stabilizing and developing the area, now the scene of a major NATO operation against the Taliban.

At the tribal meetings known as "shuras," the message was "we are still in the early days of the military operations but we are here and we are here to stay," Rory Donohoe, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) representative in Helmand province told CNN in a phone interview, as he sat 25 kilometers from the battlefield.

Donohue, who has been working with provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan for three years, said he found a generally optimistic attitude from the Afghans he spoke with. "Even influential elders who we honestly didn't think would be supportive are aligning themselves with us," Donohoe said. "They see the work everyone has done in other areas of Helmand and are looking to seeing those benefits too." (Photo above: Afghan elders, trailed by children, leave following a meeting with U.S. Marines in Trikh Nawar, northeast of Marjah, on Monday.)

Donohoe stressed that this operation is different from previous operations in Afghanistan, because all the relevant agencies - including USAID, the U.S. State Department and British organizations - were all intensely involved in the planning with the Afghan government, including how actions would unfold and how they could assist the local population during operations.

Currently a joint U.S.-British "hot stabilization team" is sitting alongside with Marines at the edge of the battlefield, ready to move into Marjah to assist the local government in rebuilding local damage caused by the fighting, and to re-establish Afghan government services to local residents.

Donohoe said U.S. civilian personnel will take their cues from the Marines as to when conditions are safe enough to move in. The deputy district governor for Marjah currently is also currently waiting at Marine headquarters in Helmand with a "district support team," which is made up of State Department, USAID and British stabilization experts. Once the Marines say it is safe to go in, the deputy district governor will lead additional shuras with local elders to set medium- and longer-term priorities.

As the fighting continues, U.S., British and Afghan officials are already meeting to go over a line-by-line budget of what the Afghan government will need to deliver services, according to Donohoe. Both he and Matt Freear, with the British-led Helmand provincial reconstruction team, stressed planning for all these phases is being done down to the most minute levels.

In addition to making sure the facilities are secure and there are enough personnel, efforts include equipping Afghans with enough fuel, cell phones, textbooks and other items to make sure the stabilization runs smoothly. While the U.S. or British could purchase these items for the Afghans, attention is being paid to procuring them locally to get the economy moving.

"This can't be done by quick fix," Freear said. "It has to be done methodically."

Immediate stabilization efforts will include several aspects, according to Freear. First, the shuras will give the Afghan population an opportunity to develop a relationship with government officials, build trust and confidence in the government, and let Afghan officials know what is expected of them.

Meanwhile a "cash for work" program, Freear said, will provide an "instant sign that we, in support of the Afghan government can provide help." The program will employ local citizens in projects, such as repairing battle damage, to provide freedom of movement for the population by dredging canals, building sanitation projects and launching other reconstruction work, such as building schools.

A third aspect of the stabilization effort is deployment of the national Afghan police force for three months, while more local police are recruited. The police, Freear said, will be a "key part of providing security" during the stabilization phase.

As immediate stabilization efforts move forward, the Helmand Provisional Reconstruction Team, made up of 200 Americans, British, Danish and Estonian civilians, is working on longer-term reconstruction projects.

One major goal is to resume construction on the main north-south highway connecting Marjah to Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. In addition to allowing farmers to get their crops to markets, the hope is the road will inspire good governances because Afghan officials will be able to travel more freely through the province.

The U.S. also is working on a robust agricultural program for farmers in advance of the upcoming planning season. Because now is the time for farmers to being deciding what to plant this summer, the U.S. wants them to plant "good" crops, such as pomegranates, and the U.S. will be providing agricultural vouchers, seed and discounted fertilizer.

–CNN's Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. S R Wakankar

    Great news from marjah.Congratulation.Afganistan needs to be brought back to civilisation.These so-called safe-heavens/sanctuaries of OBL and his gang should be thrown open for world tourism and mountaineering.You have rightly exploded the false myth propagated by Pakistan that nobody has ever succeeded in going into these places and nobody has ever prevailed over these so-called brave people.These people need to be brought into the mainstream humanity and educated/uplifted.If they don't allow anybody into their area or world,then how they accepted these international terrorists there and sheltered them?Not only this,they entered into marital alliances with these international rogues and became one with them.How this could happen?This point needs to be probed into.
    Congratulations once again for the success in catching the 'big fish' from Karachi.Waiting for the day when you will catch the biggest fish- OBL.

    February 16, 2010 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
  2. Phil

    This is great progress so far in Marjah. The clear-hold-build strategy being used is working effectively, with little civilian casualties. Thank you President Obama and NATO for the tens of thousands of extra troops that were needed so we could use this strategy in more places instead of possibly having to cope with a disruption-leave situation. The Afghan leaders all over Afghanistan are seeing how the Taliban can no longer win, therefore they are putting their trust in the Afghan government to protect them which is greatly demoralizing to the Taliban effort. They will lose more and more safehavens, weapons caches, ammunition, recruits, and funds and support over this offensive in Marjah. We will be victorious in the end. God Bless the troops and God Bless the United States of America.

    February 16, 2010 at 4:11 am | Report abuse |
  3. Christopher Ruggiero Sr.

    Mr. President and Congress when you talk about developing the area do you mean like Detroit or Philadelphia and who exactly is going to pay for this?, Warren Buffet? cause I'm not! Those people have been doing good for thousands of years just the way they are and they don't need pimps, prostitutes and everything else that so called "Western development " brings!

    February 15, 2010 at 11:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. HUSIN

    WHATEVER YOU DONE IS ACTUALLY FOR THE BENEFITS OF THE TALIBANS AND THE AL-QAEDA.THEY WILL LET YOU DO ALL KINDS OF GOOD THINGS AND LATER THEY WILL TAKE IT FROM YOU WITH FREE OF CHARGE AND AT THAT TIME YOUR ECONOMY WILL GOING DOWN MORE SWIFTLY.TAKE MY WORDS

    February 15, 2010 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mljohns00

    Looks like on the civilian side, we have Roy Donahoe. He's been working on provincial reconstruction for three years. Anybody read about the long-term effects of our provincial reconstruction so far? Zilch.

    And "cash for work"? How about some work in the U.S, where 20-25% of us are unemployed and losing our homes?

    February 15, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dan

    So we just captured the highest ranking Taliban Official since the war started? Why not dunk his head under some water and find out what he knows? He is close to Bin Laden and probably has info! Oh Wait, Obama is in Charge. Well bring him to US soil, feed him 3 square meals a day(better than he ate in the mountains), and get him a Lawyer. Just hope Obama doesn't release him back to fight against our troops like other prisoners have been!

    February 15, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. john brooks

    what about Canadians?

    February 15, 2010 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Deluded

    No report on the consecutive wrong bombings...

    February 15, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  9. ken jamme

    While we direct out attention towards bringing americanization to other parts of the world, our country will fail from within.

    February 15, 2010 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dan Nelson Lafayette,IN

    It seems that Moshtarak(together)has been and is working so far. Also the District Support team will help in getting the people together to help rebuild and the construction of a city that has been unified by the Taliban for years. Lord I pray that the Afghan people realize that we are there to help them and to eradicate the Taliban's influence in the Marjah region in the name of Jesus I pray,Amen.

    February 15, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Michael Gorman

    Great idea!

    February 15, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Matt

    "Donohoe stressed that this operation is different from previous operations in Afghanistan, because all the relevant agencies – including USAID, the U.S. State Department and British organizations – were all intensely involved in the planning with the Afghan government, including how actions would unfold and how they could assist the local population during operations." WHAT THE H*LL HAVE WE BEEN DOING OVERTHERE FOR THE PAST 8 YEARS???

    February 15, 2010 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Gee Gee

    At most, ... at most, ... they'll get a $10 million development program, and one that USAID tells them what they'll get, not what they need, and skims 85% off the top for 'administrative fees'.

    $1.5 million for the Afghans, out of an unbelievable $122,000 million every year that's disappearing down the rathole of 'GWOT 1&2' so-called 'defense', and an amazing $6,000 million disappearing down the gnosh pit of State embassy parties.

    Where are the audits? Oh, wait, the 'contingency action' funding says, 'emergency (sic) funding for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and **OTHER UNDISCLOSED** 'national security' priorities.', ... like Dicky Bird Cheney's 69th birthday party, where he opened his second 'deferred compensation' war profiteering cashier's check for $10's of millions in HAL-KDR bloodsuck profits, that we paid for.

    The ultimate joke will be that, in trade for the $1.5 million development project, the Afghan farmers of Helmand are giving up $10's of millions in poppy farming profits, for which they won't be compensated, and when their USAID project is done, and they're all sitting around looking at the empty shell, starving, they'll finally get the joke.

    'Afghanistan' is a honey pot for Corp-State Congress to pour our kids' inheritance into, the Gift That Keeps On Giving. Like Sec State Clinton shreiks, 'Qwaaak! Qwaaak! Iran! Iran!!' as she flies off again to join the other bloodsuckers.

    February 15, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  14. PAtrick alexander

    These people might reside in caves,but I am sure they are not Stupid,people who come to help,don,t come carrying GUNS.
    hello

    February 15, 2010 at 10:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Kevin Mahoney

    First of all, these people do not know much about us or really what we are trying to get them to be. One of the richest countries state sponsored news service, Qatar, openly says that Americans eat their babies. So if these peoples driving lamborghinis believe this, I wonder what kind of news gets filtered down by the Taliban to the tribe level. So this is a problem. Another problem is that I have read that Muslims aren't allowed to take advice or listen to non Muslims. So we have an image problem and we need to change our image. I feel like a good step in Afghanistan would be to ask Indonesia and any other country that's wants to come train with the best Army in the history of the world and see the stuff that we are doing to come join us for a month of training. We could use the Muslim Indonesian Soldiers (around 150) to try and implement some sort of Golden Rule and expand the Afghanis view of the world. I think that it would be good for them to see strong Muslim Soldiers that have integrety and for us to link ourselves with that image. The Indonesians should bring many pictures of their homeland and their lives outside of the military. They should have digital devices and gain the respect of the Afghanis. Anything to help drive home whatever message we are trying to deliver and expand their view of the world. To take some of the ghetto war element out of the equation, the Indonesians and the U.S. could gift a year supply of food. (fairly cheap when you think about all of the money that we spend) This would build trust and help expel the Taliban. I know that their would be wars over the food, but we have to try and implement the Golden Rule. I believe it to be a major difference in our cultures, one of the reasons why we are succesful. The Indonesians should encourage them to form a massive tribe with no wars. I believe this is the first step in a primal governemt, outside of the cities. Also, the food would help to get them hooked on a more advanced way of life. I don't think that they have ever had Jack Links Beef Jerkey. They are going to want to know how they can make it, and also why and how we have so much that we can give it to them. The Indonesians can give suggestions for Islamic schools and small scale businesses. Feed lots with branding to mark the animals. We have to find the first steps to modernize them and also, the reason why they haven't made those steps. The ethic of reciprocity.

    February 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Tyler Harwell

    I have read reports of Nato forces destroying poppy fields and harvests. They will make enemies by continuing to do this. A better solution would be to buy them, and pay more than the taliban. This should be a one time offer in areas coming under control. The farmers can then be warned to plant other crops in the coming season. And it would not be a bad idea to guarantee a market for those, by offering to make future purchases.

    February 15, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  17. A. Smith, Oregon

    Unfortunately America is not understood that you simply can not buy allies and friendship. Handing out bags filled with freshly minted American taxpayer 100 US dollar bills to each of the Clans leaders is not the solution and never was the solution to gaining any long lasting alliance nor even friendship from the Afghanistan clans.

    The Taliban flush with Opium-Heroin money is going to simply pour more money into the pockets of the very same Clans leaders to purchase their alliance and cooperation.

    The long term stabilization of this entire region revolves around destroying all of the Opium Poppy fields and quickly switching over to entirely different commercial cash crops which the Taliban cannot take advantage of, and yet the villagers can prosper from thru farming.

    February 15, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |