May 6th, 2010
12:19 PM ET

Losing hearts and minds in Marjah?

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."

Kerry said that progress had been made - U.S. and coalition forces have helped Afghans clean up schools and markets and build bridges as well as making sure a local Afghan government is in place in Marjah for the first time in years.

But unless these changes are embraced by the local Afghans, the results won't be enough. "The ultimate measure of our success will be whether we can win the trust of the Afghan people and transfer security and governance to them. Our challenge was never only to clear territory, but to hold, build, and transfer that territory back to our Afghan partners."

The ICOS report is based on interviews in March with more than 400 Afghan men from Marjah, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar.

Of those interviewed, 95 percent believe more young Afghans have joined the Taliban in the last year. More than three-quarters say they were often or always angry and 45 percent of those said that anger stemmed from the NATO presence, civilian casualties and night raids.

Read the ICOS report | Read Kerry's full statement

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