March 7th, 2010
10:24 PM ET

Can Karzai deliver in Marjah?


The small windows of the U.S. military aircraft give only fleeting views of the ground below. But it’s spectacular. A soaring, snow-capped mountain range.

Behind me the man who officially leads this country has his eyes closed. He might be sleeping. No, he’s not. He’s just caught my cameraman trying to get a shot of him. And he’s not happy about it.

President Hamid Karzai is referred to as “The Mayor of Kabul” by those who say his government has little influence outside the capital. Today’s journey is an attempt to expand that influence. He’s going to Marjah for the first time in his life.

The Afghan president swoops in on a marine helicopter and is greeted warmly by hundreds of men. There are no women.

This desolate town in Helmand province is now world famous because it was recently the focus of efforts to drive the Taliban out of this region as part of Operation Moshtarak. The president is here to persuade the local population that military forces will now hold this ground and his government will start delivering services.

Any services would help. Marjah is a shadow of a town. It’s difficult to describe how little there is here.

The local elders forcefully tell Hamid Karzai they need more of everything. They need all the basics: roads, schools, hospitals and honest police. They tell him they have been oppressed by the Taliban and abandoned by Kabul. He agrees and promises to help.

So now what? It only took weeks to drive back the Taliban. But building communities that can resist them in the future will take much longer. The people of Marjah know just how hard that’s going to be and President Karzai learned today not all of them believe it’s even possible.

March 7th, 2010
01:17 PM ET

Photo spotlight: Marjah street

While reporting in Marjah this weekend, CNN producer David Harding captured this street scene - a photographer setting up the shot, soldiers patrolling the area and shopkeepers and residents beginning to return to somewhat normal life. Marjah is the focus of Operation Moshtarak, a massive military offensive by Afghan and international troops to wrest control of the southern Afghanistan city from the Taliban.

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Filed under: Marjah • Photo Spotlight
March 7th, 2010
11:36 AM ET

Making it to Marjah

After sitting and stewing in one military base after another for six days, we were finally going to Marjah.

We all awoke of our own accord around 1:30 AM, quickly packed our things and made our way to the transport area of Fiddler’s Green, an absurdly idyllic name for a Marine base that was neither green nor anything to fiddle about. FULL POST

March 7th, 2010
10:22 AM ET

Photo spotlight: Faces in Bajaur

The Bajaur Agency is the northern-most district in Pakistan's tribal region located along the Afghan border and has been the target of airstrikes on militant hideouts in the past months. CNN recently visited the area where the Pakistani army showed us where some of the Taliban lived, in an intricate network of 154 tunnels and caves. While there, we captured some of the faces of the local villagers and soldiers in the Pakistan Army. FULL POST

March 7th, 2010
09:57 AM ET

Karzai visits Marjah

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai made an unannounced visit to Marjah on Sunday to see the gains made after a massive military offensive by Afghan and international troops to wrest control of the southern city from the Taliban.

Karzai toured the city in Helmand province with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

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Filed under: Karzai • Marjah • Operation Moshtarak