When Gen. David Petraeus takes over command in Afghanistan, his first and most urgent problem may be what the ousted commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal famously called "a bleeding ulcer" - the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand province.
Marjah was supposed to be the showpiece of the clear, hold and build strategy. The idea was to use the military to clear out the Taliban and then win the hearts of the community with better government services and a workable local power structure.
Four months into the Marjah operation, Time magazine offers the assessment of a company commander on the Taliban presence in Marjah: "It depends on what your metric is for 'clear.' They're obviously not gone, and they're not going to be gone."
According to a report in The Washington Post, there have been more U.S. military deaths in Marjah this month than in the first month of the operation. Taliban intimidation of civilians is rampant.
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently testified that the gloom-and-doom reports are premature, that the Marjah effort just needs more time.
"The reality is that the military operations in Marjah were successful, and a place that had been controlled by the Taliban is no longer - for two years or more - is no longer controlled by the Taliban," Gates said. "Getting the civilian coalition and Afghan forces in there - the civilian officials building the development programs is moving forward, but it is moving slower than we originally anticipated."
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