In Afghan villages, Marines work to win over civilians

U.S. Marines and an Afghan policeman
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

United States Marines moved into villages in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan on Friday, meeting little resistance as they tried to win over local chiefs on the second day of the biggest American military operation here since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

One Marine was killed and several were wounded Thursday, when 4,000 Marines launched the operation in Helmand Province, a remote area at the center of the country’s opium cultivation, which helps finance the insurgency. So far, however, there has been little resistance from the Taliban, according to Capt. Bill Pelletier, a military spokesman…

The aim of the operation in Helmand is not simply to kill Taliban fighters but to win over the local population, Captain Pelletier said — a difficult task in a region where foreigners are viewed with suspicion.

Also members of the wrong clan all the way out to 2nd cousins.

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

“We are not worried about the Taliban, we are not focused on them,” he said. “We are focused on the people. It is important to engage with the key leaders, hear what they need most and what are their priorities.”

The offensive along 55 miles of Taliban-controlled areas in southern Afghanistan will test the Obama administration’s new strategy of holding territory to let the Afghan central government sink roots in rural areas where Taliban influence has been strong.

As the operation entered its second day, Marine units secured control of the district centers of Nawa and Garmser and negotiated entry into Khan Neshin, the capital of Rig district, Captain Pelletier said. “They waited for the local and village elders,” outside Khan Neshin and “with their permission they went in and now are engaged in talks,” he said…

In a display of the deep misunderstandings that any foreigner is at pains to overcome, an elder with a gray beard asked the Marines whether they would stop people from saying prayers.

In describing the Taliban, the local men compared them to the American forces. “They spend one night in the village and then move on to another village, just as you guys,” Mr. Nabi said.

More than many, I think the Marines are most likely in for the duration. Their feeling for the service may be long-term or short-term; but, the concept of finishing what you started, completing the tasks assigned by your leading ranks – is what it’s about.

Some of these young men and women may not have had any inclination to comprehend and understand other nations, other cultures, before they enlisted. They’ve learned something about that, by now. Otherwise they wouldn’t be included in.

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