Marine General: The Fight for Marjah is 'Essentially Over'
WASHINGTON Dec. 7, 2010 -- The top U.S. Marine commander in southern Afghanistan said today that almost 10 months after the military offensive to take the key town of Marjah concluded, the fight against the Taliban there is "essentially over."
Major General Richard Mills told Pentagon reporters via videoconference that Taliban fighters have been pushed into the desert areas surrounding the town, though they occasionally come back to town and "takes the odd shot at us."
Mills is in charge of Regional Command Southwest, the NATO command responsible for providing security in Helmand Province, an area that has long been a Taliban stronghold.
Located in the heart of the opium growing areas of southern Afghanistan, Marjah had long been under Taliban rule and was a key component in the Taliban's control of the opium trade to fund its operations.
The fight for Marjah was portrayed by NATO officials as the first example of their new strategy to restore security to key population centers and build confidence in the Afghan government's ability to provide public services.
Former NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal described the approach as "a government in a box" because NATO and Afghan government civilians would move quickly to provide aid and public services once military operations wrapped up.
However, the civilian effort lagged as the Taliban continued to launch attacks and intimidated civilians into not working with development projects.
The slow progress of civilian efforts was a key reason why NATO and U.S. officials have been hesitant to go beyond saying that the progress in Marjah has been slower than anticipated.
Shortly after the Marines launched their major offensive to take the town in February, Taliban fighters melted back into the population and launched a guerrilla campaign that continued to target Marines with roadside bombs and sniper fire.
Of equal concern for military planners was the Taliban intimidation campaign against Marjah residents.
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