Two months after the beginning of the NATO operation to defeat the Taliban in Marja, the news coming out the area is bleak.
As recently as last Monday, the LA Times reported that in spite of an occupying presence of 2000 marines and many more Afghan police, the Taliban have begun encroaching on its old stomping grounds and are attempting to reassert control. Much of the region remains unsecured, leaving civilians prone to injury from crossfire, landmines, or Taliban intimidation. Moreover, reconstruction efforts have not been as efficient as promised, pushing some to leave the area altogether.
“No one can move about freely. There is no security,” said Marja tribal elder Sultan Mohammad Shah, 64. “The Taliban are killing and beating people, and no one knows what is going on the next block over because they cannot go anywhere.”
He and others said promised government services have been slow to materialize. “If the situation remains like this, people will leave Marja,” Shah said.
The bulk of Taliban efforts amount to intimidation, according to a mid March report by the New York Times. By taking advantage of the density of the city’s population of 80,000 and the cover of night, remnants of Taliban forces have returned to organize resistance efforts.
“After dark the city is like the kingdom of the Taliban,” said a tribal elder living in Marja, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of the Taliban. “The government and international forces cannot defend anyone even one kilometer from their bases.”
According to the Times, the Taliban acquire supplies and find shelter by intimidating residents, threatening them with “beheadings, cutting off hands and feet, all the things they did when they were the government.” These do not appear to be idle threats, as there has been at least one alleged instance of Taliban murder, which occurred on March 10.
An April 4th New York Times article quotes a tribal elder: “‘Every day we are hearing that they kill people, and we are finding their dead bodies,’ he said. ‘The Taliban are everywhere.’” All of this has led to a reevaluation of the operation’s success in the minds of at least some on the ground. One officer claims that “the Taliban have ‘reseized control and the momentum in a lot of ways’ in northern Marja.” Their continued attacks have hindered efforts to bring stability to the area and are making it almost impossible for business to thrive:
A steady flow of Taliban attacks have added to the challenge. After the February offensive, the Marines used cash payments to prod more than 20 store owners at one bazaar in northern Marja to open their doors, a key to stabilizing the area and reassuring residents.
By late March, all but five shops had closed, Major Coffman said. A prominent anti-Taliban senior elder was also gunned down in northern Marja, prompting most of the 200 people in his district to flee.
All told, the recent news on the ground in Marja confirms our worst suspicions about the operation. Far from stabilizing the area and improving the welfare of the citizens, the US occupation has only replaced transparent Taliban oppression with a hidden campaign of intimidation that serves as an obstacle to US rebuilding efforts. Worst of all, this change has come at the cost of 28 lives and thousands of displaced people, in spite of measures taken by the military to reduce harm to innocents.