Moshtarak Update: Three Months to Complete Marjah Mission

The fighting continues in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as U.S. Marines and Nato forces try to move Taliban out of the village Marjah.

Operating Moshtarak

Six Nato soldiers died on Thursday, February 18th, along with one on Friday. Nato-led troop deaths now total twelve. A British commander in Marjah, Nick Carter, said “stiff resistance” remains from insurgents. “It will be some days before we can be completely confident that Marjah is secure.”

Maj-Gen Carter said it could take another three months to determine how successful the operation had been.

The clean-up of Marjah, using a force of Afghan military, is the start of an offensive to provide secure population centers in Southern Afghanistan, but as suspected, Taliban have hidden in compounds where troops can see women and children on the rooftops in or in second or third floor windows, providing human shields and preventing Nato air strikes.

It is difficult for the Afghan army and Nato to storm Taliban-held areas because to do so may inflict heavy civilian casualties and there are still a lot of civilians in Marjah.

“Whenever they launch an attack, the Taliban take refuge in civilians’ homes.”

Operation Moshtarak has focused on Marjah, located about 360 miles southwest of Kabul, because agricultural opportunities are fertile there, and the hope is that with financial aid, farmers can be turned away from their poppy crops, to crops that provide not only a living, but security without Taliban interference.

Plans call for NATO to rush in a civilian administration, restore public services and pour in aid to try to win the loyalty of the population in preventing the Taliban from returning.

Norm Hooben noted that a CBS embedded reporter spilled the fact that an elite team of Marines were dispatched “behind Taliban lines…on Friday,” and a Marine officer spoke “on condition of anonymity because of security concerns,” confirmed the mission. As Hooben pointed out, if there are security concerns, why is anyone talking?

U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson says Marines have taken control of main roads, bridges, markets and government centers in Marjah:<

I’d say we control the spine” of the town, Nicholson said as he inspected the Marines’ front line in the north of the dusty, mud-brick town. “We’re where we want to be.

Nicholson said they are taking fire from Taliban sharp-shooters, who they believe are not from the Marjah area, but some calm is beginning to come to the area. Against the advice of U.S. Marines, some residents returned to their homes, some markets opened in the open-air bazaar in the north end of Marjah, and some people ventured out to stock their pantries for the first time in a week, and Nato forces still face difficult challenges with the people:

“We couldn’t do anything when one of them was forcing his way into our house. What could we do?” said Sayed Wakhan, a sunburned, middle-aged opium poppy farmer in northern Marjah.

But Wakhan, who spoke to reporters as he mixed mud to make repairs on his house, also said he didn’t trust the government forces who now occupy his neighborhood. 

“I have suffered at the hands of police, and I don’t like the international forces coming into our area,” he snapped. His remarks were a reminder of the tough job ahead for NATO and Afghan authorities in winning over locals used to an uneasy peace under the Taliban.

War on Terror News has updates on Marjah resident’s gratitude for Operation Moshtarak. Holger Awakens has good commentary on Marjah.