Residents wait in fear for aid
By Mohammad Ilyas Dayee
HELMAND - The people of Marjah, the focus of a major military operation in
recent weeks to oust the Taliban, say they are still waiting for the promised
security and reconstruction and many are afraid to leave their homes.
Operation Moshtarak (Dari for "Together") combined 15,000 Western and Afghan
troops in a sweep across the southern Afghan province of Helmand that began in
But, it seems, ordinary life has yet to resume. While government and Western
forces are present at all the major road intersections, locals are still afraid
of the Taliban.
The operation was intended to provide reassurance to local people
after the insurgents' rule of fear, yet many still feel anxious. They avoid
traveling and the crowds that used to be seen in the town of Marjah have gone.
When they do go out, they walk carefully because of mines on roads and bridges.
People in Marjah, until recently considered a major center of heroin refining,
say 40 civilians were killed in Operation Moshtarak. Helmand governor Gulab
Mangal has put the figure at 15. In the worst incident confirmed by the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), 12 civilians died when two rockets struck
People do not visit from other places like before and many of the shopkeepers
of Marjah say they have been forced to close for lack of business.
The International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, did not respond to a request
from IWPR for comment on the situation in Marjah after the military operation.
One local trader, Sharifollah, selling fruit and vegetables at an important
road intersection, said, "People do not come to buy their groceries during the
day as they are afraid of the foreigners.
"The intersection is full of dust during the day and our roads have been
destroyed by tanks. During the night, people do not come out because they are
afraid of the Taliban ... Only government officials buy anything from us."
One elder in Marjah, Hajji Moalem, told the Institute for War and Peace
Reporting by phone that during the day foreign and Afghan troops are in control
but at night the Taliban emerge. "So how are the people supposed to live?" he
The governor of Marjah, Mohammad Zaher Khan, however, insisted that the Taliban
were no longer a force in the region.
"I cannot accept that the Taliban control Marjah at night because we observe
them all the time. We have even killed three groups of their mine planters so
far. There are some movements, but it does not mean the Taliban govern Marjah,"
But Mangal has conceded that insurgents are still around. "I am aware that
armed Taliban are active in some parts of Marjah at night, but the situation
will not continue like this. We will take measures to solve the problem," he
told a local gathering after recently visiting the area.
The governor said new security checkpoints would be set up and sought to
reassure locals, "You can travel safely now."
The speaker of the provincial council in Helmand, Mohammad Anwar Khan, who
accompanied Mangal to Marjah, said the security situation was improving. "The
new checkpoints will cut communication between the Taliban," he said.
Police in Marjah recently seized Iranian weapons in a cache thought to be for
the Taliban. Police commander Gholam Sakhi said by phone, "We captured hundreds
of AK-47s and magazines which were recently brought from the Iran border for
the Taliban. We seized the weapons during a search operation at a house."
However, Sakhi said his officers were faced with a lack of cooperation from
people who he said had been brainwashed by the Taliban to oppose the
government. He said locals will never cooperate with the government easily.
The United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen,
visited Marjah at the end of March and inspected US bases. Addressing a major
gathering of local people, who appealed for help on things like roads, a
hospital and crops, he reportedly said, "I fully understand your concerns. They
clearly focus on what are very common needs. And I don't come here today with
any magic formula."
Although the military work daily to deal with mines laid by the Taliban, the
rebels quickly replace them, sometimes in the same holes from which old ones
were removed, locals say.
One senior police officer said, "We still detect new mines or they blow up
vehicles on a daily basis, inflicting casualties. The Taliban's activity has
reduced in Marjah, but it has not stopped. They make new preparations every
The people of Marjah had expected rapid reconstruction work after the fighting
ended, but have been disappointed that little has happened.
Local resident, Sayed Wali, fled to Lashkar Gah for a month at the height of
the military operation and heard reports about security and reconstruction work
going on in Marjah, but when he came home, nothing matched what the media had
"This is how it was during the era of the Taliban. Our lives have not changed
but the military operation has bothered us a lot," he said.
Wali said he found his wheat fields had dried up when he returned home, his
sheep had died and his house was damaged by bullets.
Locals also say that promised compensation for losses from Operation Moshtarak
has not been forthcoming.
Dr Mirwais, who has shops in Marjah that were used as bases by foreign forces
during the offensive, said, "Only a few houses and shops have been compensated.
The people lose patience on a daily basis. If they are not going to pay for the
losses, they should tell people."
Kahn, the governor of Marjah, has pledged that the authorities will pay for
damage to any shops or houses caused during the military operation.
But he was also dissatisfied by the reconstruction effort, telling reporters,
"No schools have been opened in Marjah yet. Education officials came, but they
fled from here. I have only hired one temporary teacher who teaches 60 children
in the ruins.
"People in Marjah want jobs and a functioning administration, but some
government organizations have not sent their representatives here."
However, he said he was happy that he had been able to provide 1,000 young
people with daily work in Marjah. They get US$5 a day, funded by the American
And in mid-March, senior officials of the Red Crescent came to Marjah with food
and other supplies. "We provided assistance to more than 500 deserving families
whose houses were destroyed and who had lost their belongings," Red Crescent
director, Ahmadollah Ahmadi, said.
But some local officials believe that they will struggle to get Marjah back on
its feet because of the continued rebel presence.
The head of the council in Marjah, Abdorrahman Jan, called for talks with the
insurgents, "I say instead of wasting time, we should negotiate with the
Taliban in the area and make them reconcile with us. We have no other
Since the allied operation, the Taliban have killed ten civilians in the area,
accusing them of spying for the foreign and Afghan forces, local people say.
The Helmand governor and many other government officials are worried that
Marjah may become a second Musa Qala. That northern Helmand town was recaptured
from the Taliban in an earlier operation and government and foreign forces made
promises of assistance, but they did nothing for the district in practice,
Mohammad Ilyas Dayee is an IWPR-trained reporter in Helmand.