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

soundoff (151 Responses)
  1. dindy Sri lanka

    truth will win

    August 31, 2010 at 2:16 am | Report abuse |
  2. Helen Thomas

    I just wanna know when the Americans are finally going to grow the cajoles to go after ISRAEL for attacking them on "9/11",,, he biggest FRAUD in human history...... 2 airplanes "knock down" 3 buildings,,, yea right.

    July 31, 2010 at 2:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. mike clark


    July 28, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jiuri

    I'm a student from China! I'm very luck that I can get away from war and live happily with my family ,friends and schoolmates . I almost can feel the msteriable life when I read the report on their life . After read the blog and some comments on it . If we only aim at oill and dollars here .We will creat many new torrists .

    July 26, 2010 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ankur

    Everyone wants to be on the winning side. The US desperation to get out of Afghanistan is palpable and there is a timeline attached to it. Taliban know all they have to do is bide their time and they will have the country to themselves to kill, maim, plunder, convert and run it in their barbaris style. Who do you think the young afghan is likely to side with. No surprise that the recruitment over last year has increased since it has become apparent that US is looking for an escape route. The only solution is to stay there for the long haul and let the afghan people know it too. Sure it will cost both in terms of life and resources but there is little other choice. And make sure there is development work in afghanistan – slow yet steady. There is no doubt that the taliban will be defeated in the end and the whole world including the afghans will be grateful to the US for it.

    July 20, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  6. not4n

    this link explains it all

    June 15, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • shagrama

      Hell yeah!!! Nothing like an aboundant source of rare, scarce and desperately needed metals and ores in the same country where it just so happen is an enemy to defeat!!! Hmmm... We need that Coltan ore... Lets make them our enemies and lets go to that country, lets "free" them and when we get out lets leave in power a puppet that will take care of our Coltan mine...
      Hmmm... We need Oil let me see where it is... Irak, Venezuela, Iran... Oh, how convenient!!!

      July 21, 2010 at 2:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. pmo5010

    The United States has done a lot of things wrong in Afghanistan. The initial removal of the Taliban was a major step and if there is one thing I do know, it is this: the Afghan people don't want the Taliban back. Despite this, it is an intriguing scenario and a major hurtle for those who advocate that afghanistan is the good war and iraq is the bad war. In terms of success, it has gone the complete, opposite way. Iraq is on the path to becoming a more stable and prosperous country (although I am very cautious about my outlooks on this) while Afghanistan has had very little in the way of progress.

    First of all, unlike Iraq and its oil, Afghanistan has very little of value in terms of resources that could be used to turn a profit and help rebuild the country. Unfortunately, the one thing they have a lot of is opium and reports show that Afghanistan supplies over 90% of the world's opium and it is all going to the black market – and the Taliban have a sizeable claim in its production. We should not have been declaring war against the opium plants, but rather we should have competed for it. But then there's the stupidity of the media (both Fox and CNN) and America's "war on drugs" culture that would have been given total opposition against it – stuff like "your sons and daughters in uniform are dying on the frontlines for heroin and opium!!!!" (I have no doubt that Obama would avoid this strategy just so he wouldn't be called a crackpot liberal or socialist, again). But does anyone know where our powerful pain medications come from? Opium. We allow Turkey to subsidize its opium crops but Afghanistan provides over 90%. This would have been an enormous opportunity and, yes, we would have to fight the Taliban over it and conservatives would complain, but unless we make an attempt to revive Afghanistan's once notable vineyards for the production of raisins, there is almost nothing else left in this country that has been decimated by such a ghastly regime in shuch a short period of time. Fighting for the crops would have deprived the Taliban of an enormous financial pillar for its operations. The farmers are turning to the Taliban because the Taliban have a life-and-death monopoly over them and are the only ones willing to buy the crops. We need to compete, buy these crops, and stop giving the Taliban another means for funding its operations against our soldiers.

    Then there is the issue of Pakistan. In fact, remove the word "Taliban" and place the next most appropriate term for it and you'll get – Pakistan ISI Proxy. It was created by Pakistan in conjunction with Saudi Arabia after the U.S. influence left the region, shortly after the Afghan War against the Soviet Union. After 9/11, Pakistan was looked upon as the best ally we could have against bin Laden and Islamic extremism. We were dead wrong – Pakistan has received over a billion U.S. dollars which have gone to three major things: 1) bribing the Taliban and al-Qaeda (and allowing them to operate in the hinterlands of Pakistan), 2) financial support for other extremist groups, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba that responsible for the dreadful terrorist attacks in Bombay in 2008, and 3) Pakistani military troop buildups along its borders with India (not Afghanistan). In short, Pakistan has had a long interest in acquiring Afghanistan for territorial gains against its HIndu neighbor of India, which was something that President Obama was quick to point out during his run for the presidency, but has since become mum about it, thus creating another major pitfall.

    India is a large, multicultural, and secular nation (it has the largest Muslim minority in the world) that is also up and coming. Not only this, but India has been fighting al-Qaeda longer than we have (bin Laden's first jihad was against the Hindu-dominated India – reasons for this can be traced back to World War I, when the Ottoman Empire joined forces with German militarism, in hopes that the Muslims in India would rebel, overthrow the British Empire there, and absorb India into the caliphate), they have been supporting the Northern Alliance longer than we did, and they've been fighting Islamic extremism much longer than we have, all while being able to maintain a healthy relationship with its Muslim minorities (not perfect, I know, but it could be worse). India has actually been a major contributor to helping Afghanistan rebuild, but the United States has been trying to keep India out of Afghanistan in favor for Pakistan for which, after spending over a billion dollars to them, we have received nothing in return. This was probably George W. Bush's most successful foreign policy move and its shame that the Obama Administration is trying to undo this by turning away against such a golden opportunity to ally ourselves with India and its prime minister Manmohan Singh – and this alliance would create a healthy counter-balance against Asia's other two major powers – China and Russia.

    Everything is a mess and unfortunately, the United States has chosen very poor strategies. I am for our involvement in Afghanistan, but if we continue to ignore these three things I've mentioned, then the chances for success will become lower and lower.

    June 9, 2010 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. Yafah1

    The US should not be in Afghanistan ... You CANNOT change an Arab country – they will return to their comfort and ways once the US military is gone .... What do we accomplish? the death of our soldiers! My grandfather was in Syria for many years .... his council that I did not understand then makes sense now! = Never trust an Arab – they'll stab you in the back any time if you cross them – how do you cross them ... easy – disagree with them ... they are not bound by their words or promises !!!! the troops need to come home and fight them in the US – we are going to need them here!

    June 8, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Yafah -

      One important thing to know – Afghans are not Arabs. They have a couple of major ethnic groups – Pashtuns, Tajiks, etc. and several smaller groups. The only Arabs are Al Qaeda.

      June 11, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Kandahar

    Operation Mushtarak (together) or a collective failure. The US Army operates in Helamand thousnads of miles away from Kabul. but can they operate in 25 miles?. Wardak province is answering they question.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:08 am | Report abuse |
  10. elitesack

    This has got to be one of the best articles Ive ever read. Good job CNN.

    June 7, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ImNoExpert

    I agree that offering a future to the Afghan people, the younger generation particularly, will help us out in the long run. An effective counter-insurgency technique is to win the hearts, trust and support of the people in the insurgent area, thus cutting off the support base for the insurgents who use the people for supplies, refuge, recruits, etc. Having the people on our side will help to undermine the appeal of insurgent groups, defeating them in the long run.

    @Major Jim
    Its good to hear that you guys aren't trying to force feed modernity to the locals. I can only imagine such a drastic and sudden shift in lifestyle ending badly for both sides. A more gradual approach, like what you're talking about, sounds better in my opinion.

    Keep up the good work and come home safe

    May 26, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. US infidal

    War, mankinds population control.

    May 25, 2010 at 3:23 am | Report abuse |
  13. Major Jim

    You're welcome, Greg. The chair comment is funny. They squat for just about everything. It is kind of surreal being here as the Afghans live a life that in some parts harkens back to Biblical times. On the other hand, there are some modern ammenities here. That said, it is not wise to shove modernity down their throats but facilitate and support Afghan solutions to Afghan problems. The guys here are working hard and we have an ever growing group of locals that are brave enough to work with us through a virulent and violent Taliban campaign. We will win this war if people will stay supportive of our efforts here. Best regards, Jim

    May 21, 2010 at 4:22 am | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    For all you people who want the US to leave all of its bases around the world remember that when there’s genocide or a conflict that has global consequences and the world (aka America) needs to do something about it. It’s easy to make America the great evil because of it's mistakes (yes I admit we do make them and sometimes too many), but what people never think about is a world without American power. It would be a violent, dismal world and I think more people need to reflect on that not so much the protection on our boarders. I think it's rather sad we spent over 50 years trying to tear down a wall in Europe but strive so hard to build one up here...

    May 18, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. greg

    Major Jim,

    Very seriously, thanks for the first had account and thanks to you and your colleagues for protecting our way of life.

    Not so seriously, do you guys train the Afghans how to make chairs? I think they might be a lot less irritable if they could sit down instead of crouching all life long.

    May 16, 2010 at 9:19 am | Report abuse |
  16. Major Jim

    First, I am currently in Marjeh.
    Second, the ICOS survey was done in March, less than one-month after the attack on Marjeh commenced on Feb 13th.
    Third, it is now May and many positive things have happened and continue to happen despite a virulent Taliban Murder & Intimidation campaign against the locals.
    Fourth, ICOS on interviewed 400 people, which the majority of them were in Lashkar Gah...not Marjeh. These people fled Marjeh prior to the fighting and couldn't speak educatedly as to what was happening in Marjeh since they weren't here.
    Fifth, the report said more people had joined the Taliban in the past year, which is no reflection of operations in Marjeh since, as mentioned previously, the survey was conducted in March. If more were joining the Taliban in the past'd have to credit that to other factors...not least not the affects of Marjeh.
    Last, we have helped the local farmers transition from a dependance on Poppy as their primary crop to other legal/licit forms of agriculture. We are creating jobs, refurbishing schools, clinics, Mosques, etc. We are gathering biometric data and sharing it throughout A'stan in order to have a better database to track both good and bad.

    While I can understand people's frustrations about the length of the war in A' is important to know that we are here doing all we can to free this country of tyranny and oppression while providing National Security to our own Country.

    I'll be the first to admit we are not perfect and are subject to all the flaws of humanity...that said, we will continue to do all we can do to help these people and provide hope for the future for all of us.

    Best regards, Jim

    May 15, 2010 at 5:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Major Jim -

      Thanks for your on-the-ground perspective and your work in Afghanistan. In late May McChrystal said that Marjah was a bleeding ulcer. See Any perspectives or updates?

      Thanks again and take care.


      June 11, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
  17. jkat

    Looking at Sen Kerry's survey comments about why people join the Taliban over in Afghanistan, and I couldn't help but wonder: People over here in the US join gangs, and drug cartels, or get involved with anti-social activities for pretty much the same reason – There are no jobs, they have no money... etc., I guess the old theory that people need to "belong" to something to feel whole is true.

    May 14, 2010 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  18. Dr. O. P. Sudrania

    It may not surprise that the Afghan youths are going to join "Talibans". Unlike Pakistan, the Afghans
    are far more concientious people. The reason to join would be more of a socio-economic than the radical Islamic ideology. Though there are terror training camps established by the Pakistani Islamist organisations besides the Taliban and Al Qaeda. We seem to always under-estimate these Pakistani fundamentalist organisations based in Muridke, Punjab(Pak), PoK (United Jihad Council) and of course, as the recent reports are coming, even Sindh is not spared now, which was earlier a relatively insignificant bed due to the followings of "Sufi" saints who are relatively much quieter and shun violence. At the same time Shias are more in number than Sunnis.

    The Afghanistan is kept on boil by these terrorists who ferry to and fro from the various safe sanctuaries in Pakistan. As Fareed Zakaria has said in his column on 7th May 2010 in Newsweek that whole of Pakistan is a factory of jihad and exports terrorists all over. Look at the link:

    Therefore, the whole policy of tackling this menace has to be revised and a definitive purpose oriented programme has to be evolved, which should be centred around Pakistan and build Afghanistan. This strategy has to be seriously enshrined in Af/Pak bed if we have to win this war.

    Dr. O. P. Sudrania

    May 11, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Ben Othman

    Greetings Guys,
    The Western powers are carrying the Crusade far into Islamic territory.You can go in and out but you cannot stay forever.At the moment US is a world power, but like Roman empire it will fall–to be replaced by another

    May 10, 2010 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
  20. Afghan guy

    Davis, please understand, Afghans were not responsible for 9/11. Al Qaida did it, and there's enough evidence (Mullah Zaif said this) that the Talibans were thinking of handing Osama over in the days before the invasion started. The US didnt' wait long enough and had the arrogance that they could destroy Afghanistan in 3 hours, but look where that arrogance took the US...neither Mullah Omar nor Osama is captured. Osama was in Afghanistan true, but the Afghan culture has one important value: hospitality. They will never hand over someone who takes refuge with the Afghans. But Mullah Zaif said that they were thinking of handing over Osama because he didn't listen to the Taliban who had told him that no attacks were to be staged from Afghanistan.

    Anyways, don't blame Afghans for 9/11. The US abandoned them after Afghanistan was turned into rubble by the Soviets and was used (over 3 million Afghans were killed) and then abandoned when Afghans asked for help. So that's why they took Osama in because he offered to help if Afghans could give him refuge. (80% of AFghanistan populaton either was made to flee or killed, just for doing America's job of fighting the Communists, but they didn't get any help later on)

    May 9, 2010 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse |
  21. dwayne hale

    The whole mMddle East war situation is morbid, and that is all that will become of it. While I do wish we will win, I would be goofy to think that it will happen. A draw is the best we can do in Afghanistan. Iraq migth be another story, but I doubt that they will love us years from now. My vote is to leave the two countries, and give them a great bombing run on the way out. I don't care if we nuke 'em. The men in those countries don't have the guts to stand up for what is right, and that is why they will continue to lose. Their cause isn't our cause. It'a that simple.

    May 9, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Kolawole Ajao

    Senator John Kerry's evaluations are absolutely right. And, if that is then the case, let the Coalition Force look into those recommendations. Also let America and all its allies see these and come up with a way out. Bring the youth back to Karzai.

    May 9, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  23. GG1RG2TG3

    Some good arguments here. I have a son-in-law whom I love dearly, a Marine, in Marjah right now. He's a thoughtful, well-studied kid... as opposed to a jarhead. And he's an officer. I'm sending him this thread, I'd like to hear his POV and I'm guessing all of you would, too.

    May 9, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Jester

    Well if young men are joining Taliban in Majrah, then its obvious that they dont like US in Afghanistan. The funny thing about US being Afghanistan is that first they said they are going to Afghanistan to avenge 9/11 and get OSAMA, now we hardly hear anything about Osama, He just pops his head out after a while and says stupid stuff. I think he is dead. Then after Osama , US said that they will fight Taliban, now Taliban are still there despite all that bombing . Now we have a new statement, US is in Afghanistan to ensure happiness in Afghanistan, Give me a break, At least the Russians were honest when they said they wanted to take over Afghanistan. US is getting nearly the same treatment that the Russians were getting but since they are there to bring happiness, lets see since how long will they take this to happen. The only beneficiary of all this is India , who is establishing bases at West borders of its enemy Pakistan.

    May 9, 2010 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
  25. davis

    to rick. Thank you for your viewing. hope this echo chamber will be mute one day. also there will be a song of peace and agreement with other nations as so many young us soldiers are ready to support in building the country Afganistan . Even Israel and Palestine are having peace talks now..we too must pray that it would be successful. If we expect the history to repeat it is no use. we should not wish such thing. hope you will agree that the Afganistan people deserve better life than what they have got from Taliban. I read the book KITE RUNNER and it was written by an Afgan National.Is n t it something wrong there when it comes to the freedom of living . People in Afgan has suffered long time not because of US invaders but from the Taliban in their own country.

    May 9, 2010 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  26. Rick

    If any good can be harvested from the unmitigated disaster that is the war in Afghanistan it is that America is effectively hamstrung politically, economically and militarily so that its otherwise powerful influences cannot be so easily impressed upon other nations. The roiling nature of the Middle Eastern situation can be traced back to a common root source, the perpetual failure of the world in general and America in particular to use power and influence to secure a stable, uncontested homeland for unfairly displaced Palestinians. In the larger scheme of things and because for so many decades America's attention and energy has been so heavily focused on protecting, nurturing and appeasing the State of Israel, our influences outside the Middle East have been muted and one could argue that has been a good thing. People and countries always reap what they sow and Afghanistan appears to be on track towards fulfilling its historical promise of accomodating any invader with a bountiful harvest of bitterness and alienation as payment in kind. America will join the long list of historical invaders who have attacked and abandoned Afghanistan but at a high price that will not include victory or glory. History always repeats itself and Afghanistan is an echo chamber that has bounced the invader's shouts of pain and anguish off its unforgiving mountaintops for thousands of years. There is no shame in seeing things for what they are but it is shameful to ignore what the lessons of history continue to teach us.

    May 9, 2010 at 7:47 am | Report abuse |
  27. davis

    to Afgan guy, it is good to see your comment and please write more. if you Afgans do not serve occupier then why made the atmosphere for them to come into your land from destroying WTC? People like to be with their families if it was not important to be in a strange place like afganistan. you afgans dont have to serve the occupant ..but if you all could at least stay away from flying planes through buildings in US territory .who is the real occupier then?? Taliban.

    May 9, 2010 at 7:43 am | Report abuse |
  28. GM3

    I honestly think most of you are complete idiots

    May 8, 2010 at 8:44 pm | Report abuse |
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