News: Marines, Afghan security forces meet with hundreds of village elders in Helmand
Story by Cpl. Daniel Flynn
NAWA DISTRICT, Afghanistan — Key leaders with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 3, participated in a tribal shura July 19 at the Afghan police compound next to Patrol Base Jaker here.
There were about 300 local elders representing the seven tribes in the Nawa District present at the shura. The Nawa District Chief of Police, Haji Mohammed Nafez Khan, and the Afghan national army commander for the Nawa District, Captain Saki Dad, were also in attendance.
Lt. Col. William McCollough, commanding officer of 1/5, said, "This was the first time in over a year that this many elders felt safe enough to travel to the district center and make their concerns known."
Many of the local Afghans used the shura to speak about the need to understand the difference between good and bad Taliban, which was a common topic from the locals who spoke.
Abdul Bari, a local national who spoke at the shura, stated that "Talib" means "student" and went on to say being a religious student is not a bad thing.
The local nationals also expressed concern about the locations of checkpoints, perceived unauthorized entry into local compounds and homes, respect for their religion and culture as well as the presence and intentions of the International Security Assistance Force personnel.
McCollough used the shura to reassure the elders, and everyone else in attendance, that the Marines are not enemies of Islam and that they also share the same security concerns.
Capt. Saki Dad also spoke at the meeting and stressed the importance of the joint effort between the ANA, the Afghan national police and the Marines. He went on to voice the need for the local residents to trust and support them, while encouraging them to feel comfortable discussing any issues with them.
Khan spoke next, praising the fact that such a large group came to the shura and noting that there were members of all the tribes present.
He also asked the locals to report any known improvised explosive devises to the ANA, ANP or ISAF personnel, appealing to their sense of Islamic principles in asking for their cooperation.
Capt. Frank Biggio, 1/5 civil affairs team leader, said, "It was reassuring to hear so many local leaders express confidence in the ANA and ANP partners to improve the security in Nawa."
McCollough informed the group of elders that the Marines have been asked to introduce themselves to whoever they meet throughout Nawa, so they should expect the Marines to approach them in a friendly manner.
He added that the Marines are not acting alone, but rather in partnership with the ANA and the ANP. The battalion commander reassured the Afghan leaders that they would stay and assist their people until the Afghan forces are able to provide complete security on their own.
He said that the Marines will never prevent anyone from teaching religion and will always try to stop people from teaching bomb-making and other violent practices. McCollough added that people who say the Marines do not respect Islam are not being truthful.
He went on to say that the Marines understand it will take time to earn their trust, and he hopes that, given time, their actions will earn it.
After the shura came to a close, Ian Purves, the stability advisor for Nawa District, expressed his thoughts saying, "The fact that the chief of police could bring together over 300 elders, from seven tribal groups, to represent their communities on such issues as security and working with the Afghan national security forces and Marines, is a big step forward and another indicator of the progress being made in Nawa."