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    Post-Taliban Marjah enjoys security, promise



    Story by Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde  

    II Marine Expeditionary Force   

    CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province, Afghanistan – Marjah district, Helmand province, was a major producer of opium and a Taliban stronghold just two years ago. The Taliban was also using the district as a launching pad for insurgent activities throughout Helmand province and other areas of Afghanistan.

    Marjah was relatively undeveloped and had scant infrastructure. Local Afghan leaders said the district had no services, schools, clinics or police force under Taliban rule; it had a thriving drug trade and was a dangerous place with little hope for improvement. Marjah today is a very different place, however, with the help of coalition forces and Afghan leaders determined to free their people from insurgents’ terror and intimidation.

    “Two years ago Marjah was a central location or gathering location for Taliban, and that’s where the Taliban were being organized,” said Senior Captain Ghulam Wali, the Marjah chief of police. “They were organizing the Taliban from Marjah to (Zabul) province, Nimroz province and Uruzgan province. This place was the main place, or the hub, for the Taliban and drug traffickers.”

    The situation changed when coalition forces captured Marjah during Operation Moshtarak, which started in February 2010. Programs have since been launched, roads built, clinics and schools opened, and government representation and a judicial system established. The insurgency was ousted and drug production in the area fell significantly.

    “We evaluate the future of Marjah very well … because the security is getting better,” said Mohammad Rasoul Barakzai, the deputy district governor of Marjah. “For the people, the first thing is the security. When there is security in one place, then the agricultural-wise, the business-wise, the education-wise – in all sectors – … the security … provides opportunities to these things.”

    The coalition took control of security in the area after an initial struggle and established long-awaited, lawful order in the district. Security further solidified when residents in the area took a stand against the Taliban by joining the Afghan National Police, including a newly created Marjah chapter of Afghan Local Police.

    The police presence has allowed residents to go about their daily lives confidently, without fear of violence. It was this first step, security, that started Marjah’s rapid development.

    “(The) Afghan National Police and Afghan Local Police … provide opportunities for the kids that they’re going to school with confidence,” said Wali. “When workers are working somewhere – if they’re working on road construction or on a ditch – there are no problems with it. Besides that, when farmers are working on their land, there are no problems for them.”

    Security has boosted the local economy; Marjah residents are now able to trade food at local bazaars, which were previously dominated by drugs.

    Education is also thriving. There are currently 3,925 students attending public schools in the district as of November 2011, according to Roy, Utah, native Staff Sgt. Joseph Spencer, the development chief and education officer for the Civil-Military Operations section of Task Force Leatherneck. There were only about 560 students in the district in November 2010.

    “Before, about a year ago, there was no education, there were no doctors, there were no teachers,” said Haji Baz Gul, the chairman of the Marjah District Community Council. “As of right now, by the will of god, there is everything – there are teachers, there are students, there are hospital doctors, there (are) facilities, opportunities available right now – like the electricity is being built here.

    “Before, the food – groceries – nothing was available before,” said Gul. “Before in bazaars, except for the drugs and narcotics, nothing was available besides that, but as of right now, there is everything available when it comes to groceries.”

    Poppy is no longer grown in the district’s population centers because of Marjah’s strong police presence. A few farmers continue to grow the illicit crop in the outlying desert areas, according to government officials, but the Afghan government plans on eradicating poppy from these areas, too. Afghan officials have informed farmers that harsh consequences will come to those who break the law by growing poppy in the future.

    “The government (has) said that if anyone (grows) poppy in his ground, he will be introduced to the district attorney’s office, and he will be sent to prison, and he will be fined, so this is the beginning not to grow poppy in your ground and grow wheat (instead),” said Gul. “The government will break poppies because there is army, there is Afghan National Police, there is (Afghan National Civil Order Police), … so from now on you are not allowed to grow poppies in your properties.”

    Security has been Marjah’s catalyst for change, allowing for rapid improvements to occur in the district. The insurgents are gone, the people are working with their government officials, and quality of life has drastically improved for the district’s residents. Marjah will continue on its path of success as long as public safety remains strong.

    “The future of Marjah, people are very optimistic, and there will be security in Marjah,” said Gul. “People are struggling really hard in education sector so that they send their kids to schools. People are very happy – a lot of construction work is in progress and over here the everyday security comes and people are happy.”

    Editor’s note: Second Marine Division (Forward) heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.



    Date Taken: 12.29.2011
    Date Posted: 12.29.2011 14:23
    Story ID: 81869

    Web Views: 620
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