Marines Make Progress in One Afghan Valley

The other casualties include three Marines killed by homemade bombs in separate incidents and three more Marines who drowned when their 30 ton armored truck known as an MRAP accidently tumbled into a canal.

Despite the progress, in recent weeks the Taliban has been moving back into the area in an effort to dissuade residents from supporting the Americans and the nascent localgovernment. Two village elders and a shopkeeper, all siding with the Marines, have been assasinated. Letters warning residents about the consequences of siding with the Americans and Afghan security forces have been posted on mosques and left at homes and some residents tell Marines they've received threatening phone calls.

The result is that Marines have seen a decrease in the number of elders attending community meetings, or shuras, fewer people making use of health services. And maybe most damaging effect has been a decrease in the number of tips about Taliban activities coming in from residents.

Police Chief Arrests Taliban After Tribal Leader Assassinations

"It's a chess game," said Ltc. Watson, whose biggest challenge it is to win over a population that still isn't convinced the Americans will stay until the hardcore Taliban are gone. "These people have been fought over for 30 years" said Watson. "It's a culture of abandonment. We'll turn it around, but it will take time."

Local governance here has also suffered what appears to be a setback. The long time district governor, Haji Abdul Jan, was recently stripped of his job and replaced with Mohammed Fahim, a 22 year-old who, while energetic, lacks political skills, management experience and isn't even from Garmsir making an already tough job even more monumental.

Every dark cloud here seems to come with a silver lining. After the village elders were assassinated Watson said the Afghan police chief loaded up several pickup trucks with police, drove to a Marine base and told the captain there that he was going to "arrest some Taliban."

A short time later he returned with six men he claimed were Taliban. The police chief Omar Jan dropped off the men saying he wasn't finished and went off and collected two more and disabled several boats he suspected of ferrying insurgents across the Helmand River.

To the surprise of the Marines at least four of the men were on their wanted list.

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