Fight the Taliban "relentlessly." Don't tolerate corruption. Drink "lots of tea" with the locals.
Those admonitions are among the two dozen guidelines for counterinsurgency warfare that Gen. David Petraeus issued to U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan on Sunday. In his first major public pronouncement since taking command in early July, Petraeus urged American troops and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to learn and adapt to the culture of Afghanistan while battling the Taliban insurgents and their allies.
"The decisive terrain is the human terrain," Petraeus wrote. "The people are the center of gravity. Only by providing them security and earning their trust and confidence can the Afghan government and ISAF prevail."
It would be inaccurate to call the U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan's Marjah district a failure, and yet it's too early to call it a success, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told CNN Sunday.
"What's happening in Marjah is that the U.S. military and NATO went into one of the most difficult areas of the country, one of the bellies of the insurgency, displaced the Taliban and settled in," Richard Holbrooke told CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS." FULL POST
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. FULL POST
Within weeks, 20,000 U.S., Afghan and coalition forces will have poured into the Kandahar region of southern Afghanistan - a longtime Taliban stronghold. The mission: establish security for the people, improve local government and push the Taliban out.
It's the biggest battle yet in the counterinsurgency warplan of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. U.S. forces have already struck Taliban targets in the area, but McChrystal is now trying to make it look like a more gentle war.
"We're not using the term operation or major operations, because that often brings to mind in people's psyche the idea of a D-Day and an H-hour and an attack," he said at a Pentagon briefing in May.
But what happens if this Plan A doesn't work? Some people say Plan B is to make Plan A work. FULL POST
A U.S. Senate hearing on Thursday offered a grim assessment of the state of Marjah, almost three months after the major NATO offensive Operation Moshtarak began in the southern region.
Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Marjah does not appear to be a turning point in the overall mission in Afghanistan.
"A recent survey conducted by the International Council on Security and Development showed that a vast majority of villagers felt negatively about foreign troops and that more young Afghans had joined the Taliban over the last year," he said at the hearing. "Worse still were the reasons they had signed up with the Taliban: they said they joined because they had no jobs, because they had no money to get married or buy land, because they had no other future. In short, the coalition and their own government have not provided promising alternatives." FULL POST
A sandstorm approaches the town of Marjah, Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. The storm interrupted U.S. military missions in the region for about six hours on Monday. The desolate town of Marjah is now famous after it was recently the focus of efforts to drive the Taliban out of this region as part of Operation Moshtarak. The region is already experiencing 95°+ F weather conditions. What's the weather like in Afghanistan? Check out the conditions
Editor's Note: CNN camerawoman Mary Rogers accompanied a U.S. Marine Corps unit on Operation Moshtarak in Marjah from its preparations into the first few weeks. A veteran of warzone reporting, she has filmed in places such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, the Congo, Iraq, Chechnya, Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Here is part 4 of her reflections on her time in Marjah and a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges and camaraderie reporting from the Afghan battlefield. (Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)
February 21, night in Marjah
Darkness falls in the mud compound where the Alpha Company is spending the night as they push further west. A huge sandstorm and rainstorm kick in, sending 20? 30? 40? Marines and CNN scrambling into a tiny mudroom for shelter. I think this is the kitchen of the compound. In the corner there is a hearth, and a hen is sitting on her eggs. The dirt floor is covered with straw. I call this room "The Manger" after a Marine jokes that it looks like the place where Jesus was born.
It is getting late, and Alpha Company's resupply trucks have not arrived yet. These are the trucks that carry food, water, ammo, sleeping bags, etc. We have all been up since the crack of dawn. We are all exhausted, and the absurdity of the situation we find ourselves in makes everyone silly. In this dark miniscule space, Atia, Gordon, and I begin to bond with the men. FULL POST
Editor's Note: CNN camerawoman Mary Rogers accompanied a U.S. Marine Corps unit on Operation Moshtarak in Marjah from its preparations into the first few weeks. A veteran of warzone reporting, she has filmed in places such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, the Congo, Iraq, Chechnya, Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Here is her behind-the-scenes look on filming a firefight involving the Javvelin missile.
Seven days into Operation Moshtarak and Taliban snipers continue to be the bane of the Marines' existence. Just the day before, the Marines had engaged in a ferocious firefight that starts in the late afternoon and goes well into night. On this day they take casualties. One Marine dies.
Expensive ordinance is brought in to play. We see JDAM (guided) bombs dropped from F-16s, Hellfire missiles rocketing off Cobra helicopter gunships and hear the low drone of the A-10 Warthog at night. It's hard to describe this sound. Imagine a lawnmower from hell, mowing down everything in its path. The A-10, with its 30mm canons, can fire thousands of rounds a minute.
Then - time to try the Javelin missile. This is a shoulder-mounted weapon with a sophisticated guidance system, and a six-figure price tag. FULL POST
Editor's Note: CNN camerawoman Mary Rogers accompanied a U.S. Marine Corps unit on Operation Moshtarak in Marjah from its preparations into the first few weeks. A veteran of warzone reporting, she has filmed in places such as Somalia, Sierra Leone, the Congo, Iraq, Chechnya, Israel, the West Bank, Lebanon and Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. Here is part 2 of her reflections on her time in Marjah and a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges and camaraderie reporting from the Afghan battlefield. (Read Part 1 here)
Many times on assignments there have been people I have been instinctively drawn to (or my camera naturally gravitates to). I do not know why this is. They are people who I will never forget. Most of them spoke a language I did not understand. Not so with the Marines in Marjah. Perhaps what made this assignment so special was that I shared a bond of nationality and language with the men of Alpha Company. Here are a few of my recollections about the men with whom we slogged through Marjah. FULL POST
KABUL, Afghanistan - The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, met with the governor of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan Tuesday.
The meeting took place in Marjah, the spokesman for Gov. Gulab Mangal said. No further details on the meeting were available.
The battle-scarred enclave of Marjah was the site of Operation Moshtarak, where U.S and other troops took on Taliban militants in a massive military offensive.