March 4th, 2010
02:02 PM ET

In Marjah, it's still a competition with the Taliban

WASHINGTON – Citizens of Marjah remain very skeptical of U.S. troops and the Afghan government that has moved in and taken over the southern Afghanistan town, according to the U.S. general in charge of the operation.

U.S. Marine Corps Brig. General Larry Nicholson said on Thursday that 20 days into the operation to rid the area of Taliban influence, the public is concerned about what the new Afghan government is going to be able to do for them.

"We are in competition every day for the confidence and support of the population – we're in competition with the Taliban," Nichols told reporters at the Pentagon during a video-teleconference briefing from Helmand province.  "We have a very narrow window of opportunity here in Marjah to make that first impression and you get one shot at it," he said.

U.S. and Afghan troops started an offensive - dubbed Operation Moshtarak -  in this central Helmand region in mid-February. Nicholson said the first phase of clearing and maintaing security in the area, called the "hold" phase, would last 30 days, which is mid-March.

As part of the overall plan to keep the town out of Taliban hands the Marines, U.S. civilian advisors and Afghans are working with the locals to convince them to participate with the Afghan government.

Last summer the Marines attempted to rid the area of Taliban, but now concede it was poorly planned and did not have enough Afghan troops to effectively convince the locals to move away from Taliban rule.

The hope now for the U.S. is to convince the locals to change their crops from poppy – grown for the Taliban's drug trade – and grow crops such as wheat that can help them survive and provide income as well.

Nicholson said for years the Taliban-run town had no police force and now the Afghan government is in the process of recruiting citizens of Marjah to join a new police force who would be trained by the Marines.

Nicholson had no timetable on how long it would take to truly secure the town.  He said his troops have not fired a shot in the last eight days.  But said he would be keeping the 2,500 Marines and 1,500 Afghan troops in the area for now and reevaluate this summer.

"We are very conscious of the fact that this is a very fragile area," he said.

Nicholson also gave some insight into the first days of the operation saying they were able to get the first 4,000 troops in to the area fairly fast despite the number of roadside bombs that had been planted by Taliban fighters.

They dropped a number of troops early into the center of Marjah and worked their way to the outskirts.

He said the military had massed forces on the outside of the town ahead of the offensive and used those troops as a deception operation with no intention to go into the areas those troops were massed.

soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Nathanael [desert voice]

    These news we have been hearing from Afghanistan over the years are a nauseating song of warlords, jihad, fighting, Hekmatyar, gunmen, suicide bombers, IED's, Taliban, rocket-propelled grenades, burkas ... and poppies ... and violent death! It would seem that these people know of nothing better to do! Does Afghanistan have music, theatre, poetry? Do they have Boy Scouts? Probably not even that. It's time for a new different Afghanistan! The New York Philharmonic, went to North Korea. Why not to Afghanistan? Boy Scouts should open a chapter there. A Disneyland might change people's psyches, perhaps. How about a Chopin recital, from Warsaw, or a visit from a tango orchestra from La Boca, in Buenos Aires? I can't wait to hear about a different, more romantic and more spiritual, Afghanistan!

    March 8, 2010 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  2. claire

    It is truly a sad state when it is the people of our own country that are the ones who mistrust the intentions of our military and administrators. Please take a look, read all that you can about the history of Afghanistan and the surrounding area, the writings of the Koran and not the rants of extremists, and what the counterinsurgency policy actually is. For our troops to be so committed to this effort, for Greg Mortenson [Three Cups of Tea, Stones into Schools] to be so supportive of our military efforts, can't you please read more and try to understand more before you condemn our attempts to fight terrorism by allowing the people of Afghanistan to become empowered in their future. One can find fault with anything, but please take the time to look at an ongoing, intense effort to allow the potential of peace.

    March 8, 2010 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. Daniel

    I agree with Hansa2 that it is a dirty war on Islam,but unlike the Crusaders in the Middle Ages,who went to the Middle East to promote Christianity,the U.S. and NATO forces are there for their own sinister purposes,that is the grandiose scheme to take over the whole region.They're becoming only too successful,unfortunately.Like I said before,both the Afghans and the Pakistanis will soon start chanting "Allah Akbar,but the West,Akbar-er".

    March 7, 2010 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. shafii

    There are many actors on this stage and the great game never ended or ceased operation, it only went into a low gear.
    It is in the interests of some to keep this part of the world in conflict, not for reasons of liberation but exploitation .This has nothing to do with democracy for if you really understand this concept from people like Aristotle then you now its only for the few with everyone else being a slave. The real arena where this game is being played is in Pakistan. Read what people like Webster tarpley are stating on the real reason for this expedition. According to this rational its no the Taliban that is the enemy is china and its new port in Gwadar Pakistan one of its largest projects’ outside of china.
    Just remember, why did the US not attack Zimbabwe, because there was no economic gain.
    We all need to grow up and do a bit of reading to really understand the rational of people like Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book The Grand Chessboard., who has considerable influence in the Obama Whitehouse To find out why we are in Afghanistan if you have the stomach for it….

    March 7, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Hansa2

    We should declare victory and leave. We are not going to win a religious war which we are fighting now. This is not war on terror, this is war on Islam. Look at the crusades in the 10th & 11th centuries. They got there butt kicked and it will happen now. But our war machine won't allow us to leave!!

    March 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Muhammad Noor Jawad

    Here, i want to say something about the taliban. they came in power with your help. they are fighting with you. can you people not supported the afghans and called them mujahideen. now you people are celebrating win against your former allies. disgusting and shameful

    March 7, 2010 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  7. munir

    you americans can't defeat them with force, but by winning the hearts of local population. try to win this

    March 7, 2010 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  8. James Peace

    daniel, you can play Allah word here. This word very sensitive by all muslim or afghan.
    If you play the Allah word in Marjah, it worst than bombing 1.000 civilian in there.
    Even Mc Chrystal apologize to Karzai of 3 civilian casualties by Nato.
    What they will do for you? They kill you 1.000 times is not enough.
    Play other word if you want to share your thought buddy.

    March 7, 2010 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jason

    The US military is planning to leave; so they are training the Afghan military to take control when the are gone. It is very shortsighted and ignorant to assume the US is just "pulling out and giving up". On the other hand, it is in the US's and most of the civilized world's interest that Afghanistan is stable. The US doesn't want to stay, and they want Afghans to defend themselves; anyone who doubts this has no insight into modern US military operations and should do more research.

    P.S.: When you post anything on this page and your use of grammar and punctuation is incorrect you lose all credibility; by doing so, you paint anyone that shares your point of view in a negative light.

    March 7, 2010 at 6:17 am | Report abuse |
  10. andre

    I hope this is posted after Daniel's comment. What I find quite sickening is that you have no idea if the NATO forces are heros or not because your sitting on your chair in your bedroom bloging when they are over there fighting. Who cares what you think?!

    March 6, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. A. Smith, Oregon

    On Saturday non-American news agency's shocked the world when they published the report that the man chosen to be the area's new civilian chief has a violent criminal record in Germany. Western officials said they are not pushing to oust him.

    Court records and news reports in Germany showed that Abdul Zahir, the man appointed as Marjah's new civilian chief, served part of a more than four-year prison sentence for stabbing his son in 1998. Zahir denied he committed any crime.

    All of the American and Allied Soldiers deaths in Marjah, just so a brutal man could be forced upon the residents of Marjah at the point of the Allied machine guns.

    Is this the shining example of Gen. McChrystal's 'shake and bake' government for Marjah to be used as a cookie cutter form for other Afghanistan regions?

    This news report appears to entirely validate the story's that the residents of Marjah feel the Afghanistan Govt. is entirely corrupt and do not trust the Afghanistan Police force that the new 'shake and bake' strategy is forcing upon them. The residents have repeatedly complained the new Afghanistan Police force that was forced upon them steals their belongings, demands bribes for routine services and is ripe with graft and corruption.

    A man sent to a prison in Germany for stabbing his son, that is the thug America has chosen to lead Marjah's new Govt.??

    Mission Accomplished, Time for America and its troops to come home!

    March 6, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Allah

    taliban fredom fighters?
    You liberals make me sick.
    heres a thought... go over there and help the taliban freedom fighters instead of living in the luxury of the country you hate... pinhead!

    March 6, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Daniel

    What I find quite sickening,is how the right-wing News Media like CNN,ABC,BBC and the like tout the NATO forces in Afghanistan as great heros,while back in the 1980's they were very quick to villify the Russians as demons,attributing many atrocities to them.To this day,nobody knows if they are true or not.What is certain,is that the NATO forces are no more heros than the Russians were villains.Like Germany back in the 1930's,the people in the right-wing Media will report only what they want you to believe.

    March 6, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Haroon

    This are pashtun people, they will NEVER accept american/nato soldiers in their land. Just look at the american deaths only in kandahar, Helmand and Kunar the same thing happened to the brits, if u read the history about the battle of maiwand, where the pashtuns destryed the british army.
    And another thing is that many ANA soldiers are Hazaras,Tajiks or uzbeks they dont come along with pashtuns.
    The pashtuns dont trust US, why would they, because they were left alone after the russian left.

    March 6, 2010 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  15. James

    It seems to me that until the Myths of religions are removed, and people realise that there are no real Gods, the problems will go on and on, religions have enslaved societies for thousands of years and done more harm to us Humans, with there conflicting religions than any other disease on this planet, It is time to get rid of them.

    March 6, 2010 at 9:48 am | Report abuse |
  16. septimus severius

    i do not think that americans are stupid by nature but cnn is contribuating to this matter ,,,,,,,it s an occupation,,,,pur and simple and where there is occupation ,there is resistance ,,talibans are fighting an occupation even if you do not want to admit it ,,,,,it s not a question of chicken and goats nor your boys killing and been killed,,,,,,,get your informations from somewhere else and you will hear a defferent story ,,,,,,,,,

    March 6, 2010 at 9:04 am | Report abuse |
  17. Nathanael [desert voice]

    As regards the switching from opium crops to wheat, if roads and trucks for tracking the wheat are the problem, the UN should right now step in and make arrangements with the World Bank to built an international highway uniting Afghanistan with the Arab Sea, through Pakistan. This action, costly as it may appear, may result to be the ideal solution for many decades to come!

    March 6, 2010 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
  18. Nathanael [desert voice]

    Marjah situation is a quicksand that needs to be handled right. This is why I am personally disappointed by the decision of the NATO appointed Gov. Gulab Mangal, to select Mr. Abdul Zahir as his "front man" in Marjah. Are there no better choices in Afghanistan that a father convicted of trying to stab his own son with a butcher knife, and for beating up one of his wives? I do not believe that this man, his tribal connections aside, is the best man that the Governor could find. Of course, I may be wrong, May be for the moment there is nothing better around. It may also be that Mr. Zahir has since changed his stripes. But I caution the Governor to seek harder next time (Zahir himself has several better educated sons in Germany). What Marjah needs is highly educated men of outstanding moral background, able to put to shame the Sharia and the Taliban!

    March 6, 2010 at 5:49 am | Report abuse |
  19. r mcnertny

    Well after ten days of ignoring the war zone cnn comes up with the already discreditd grow wheat tale,,this is it,,,where is the "desisive battle" of a week aqo,,go back to tiger

    March 5, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Report abuse |
  20. "D"

    They have goats and chickens Melody...

    March 5, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Mohammad A. Dar

    It is easy to win, harts and minds with "Truth" but never by guns or reason.

    March 5, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Nate

    Islam is just about keeping people in subjugation and keep them from excercising free will as much as possible.

    March 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Report abuse |
  23. JOSEPH ESTRELLA

    recruiting local can be achievalibane by good qu
    estion and answer by eavaluating if he is taliban fighter or locals by deriving a questiona and answer to answered by the locals to achieved the rea participatoion of the locals were yu at.prevent passerbysl

    March 5, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  24. Daniel Boone

    Growing Wheat what a joke! The Afghans already get along fine growing their own Vegetables and wheat. They only grow the poppies as part of the rotation of crops and we all know that the poppy’s are the number 1 cash crop and that will not and cannot be replaced by wheat. There is a huge demand for the poppy’s and if the farmers do not grow the poppies then the Taliban will make their lives miserable. The Marine General is living in Fantasy land, heck even in the United States and Mexico they cannot stop the drug trade. I bet the town is still full of Taliban between the ages of 16 and 25 years and they will just stand by boldly watching and waiting out the Marines and maybe another 10 years will pass and we will still be talking about what happened and wondering why.

    March 5, 2010 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  25. Larry

    Can't eat poppies. Might make good ethanol.

    March 5, 2010 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  26. Yusuf ibrahim

    the talibans are already in the war in marjah

    March 5, 2010 at 5:38 am | Report abuse |
  27. nawawimohamad

    Read the Robert Fisk book titled War for Civilisation then maybe the readers can understand why the US will fail in Afghanistan. Read also the achievements that the US managed to bring to Iraq as written by the journalists in Newsweek stating that the women in Iraq can now wear mini-skirts, the people can enjoy music performed by the Iraq National Orchestra and the people of Iraq can now drink beer. These are insults to the Iraqis and the same would be for the Afghan people.

    March 5, 2010 at 4:30 am | Report abuse |
  28. angryamerican

    "ciomeptition with the talibab"....we have to compete to win the population from people that were using that population as human shields,,,digusting

    March 5, 2010 at 12:55 am | Report abuse |
  29. Daniel

    For Kristie,if destroying a religion like Islam or weakening a person's belief in it,you're quite right.But it shouldn't be done for political purposes or for gain and especially for those self serving,money grubbing Muslim Aristocrats who care only for themselves and value money and luxurious living more than Allah.At least,in the Middle Ages,the Europeans went to the Middle East to promote Christianity as that was a time when people really had faith in God.

    March 4, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Kristie

    Our Marines are already big heroes.

    March 4, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Mark Balmforth

    I cannot blame the people of Marja for being somewhat skeptical of whether or not to welcome the Marines. In a guerilla war "taking a town" is not a clear way to understand who actually has the power. Lets hope that the afghans in Marja are not aware of the current administrations plans to leave in less than two years. If I am in Marja and I was truly tempted to join the new regime I would be a little scared knowing we are not going to stick around and that the Taliban plan to be there for a long long time. I truly understand the hesitancy of the people in choosing to side with the government. The question should be how can we reassure the people that what we have in our long term plans will keep them safe.

    As for growing wheat or some other crop. Its naive to think that the profits of anything else will be near poppy. I think its better morally perhaps but purely economically its a hard sell.

    March 4, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  32. A. Smith, Oregon

    The Taliban freedom fighters are handing out larger cash bribes now than the Marines. The Afghanistan people have learned by successive generations to hold out for the largest bribe before pledging temporary agreements with foreigners.

    Of course when American pulls out its troops from Afghanistan next year, the entire region will once again be filled with the Taliban freedom fighters. American military should be giving side arms to the Muslim Women so when they leave, those Muslim Women will not simply be victims as they were before.

    Thus far, there has been no attempts by American troops to educate the Muslim women, and train them in self-defense, give them pistols and small personal firearms for self-protection. This needs to be done!

    March 4, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Tupac

    haha i find this funny...what is the taliban? does it exist ? Or hasn't obama realized your fighting a organized sophisticated resistance. People who have resisted any foriegn occupation since the beginning of time? Read the history do the math, Islam is thier salvation.

    March 4, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Save the world

    The only problem I see is eventually the marines will leave. It has been said many times that the Taliban will simply wait it out and then what will happen to these villagers???

    March 4, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  35. william scott

    The people of Marjah know it is wrong to grow opium poppies and would grow other crops if they could get them to market. Who is going to transport the tons of wheat grown? Where are the roads to run the trucks? The switch from opium poppies to wheat or any other bullky crop must be thought out or it will fail.

    March 4, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
  36. Daniel

    I'm scared to death the NATO troops will prevail there,if they didn't it would be too good to be true,but I must be a realist and expect it to happen.Another "marvelous" victory for the West over Islam and it will be belley-hooed to no end.Like I said before,both the Afghans and Pakistanis will cease to chant "Allah Akbar" then start to chant "Allah Akbar,but the West Akbar-er"

    March 4, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  37. Melody

    Our Marines would really become BIG HEROES to Marjah if they would buy a bunch of goats, sheep and chicken and give them to poppy farmers as gifts and teach them how to raise these animals and make a good living off them - goat milk, check eggs are good for their kids ...

    March 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |