Now Zad: A Comeback Complicated by Success

The town of Now Zad in Helmand has turned around faster than anyone expected.

ByABC News
February 10, 2010, 7:52 AM

NOW ZAD, Afghanistan, Feb. 10, 2010 — -- Now Zad is a town again. In just two short months the small farming community Afghanistan's northern Helmand Province has turned around faster than anyone expected.

In December 1,000 Marines and Afghan security forces moved into Now Zad in an operation designed to wrest control from the Taliban. The town, once home to 30,000 people, had been a ghost town for four years.

Over the years bitter fighting between British troops, Estonians and U.S. Marines resulted in dozens of injured and killed international troops but made little difference to the situation in Now Zad. Insurgents ringed the area with thousands of homemade bombs and booby traps, creating a stalemate that remained unbroken until late last year.

Capt. Andrew Terrell's Lima Company of the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines led the fight in an operation dubbed "Cobra's Anger." Its effect was almost immediate.

"People here are probably guys who were fighters two months ago," said Terrell. "They've put down their weapons, they want to be part of a functioning society. They have an option now, and that option is the government of Afghanistan."

The changes in Now Zad are astounding. Two months ago the only sounds on the streets of this once bustling market community were chirping birds and squeaking doors.

Today some 1,500 people live in the center of town. More than 60 shops have already opened, and every day more ex-residents arrive to survey their property and weigh the possibility of returning.

Nyaz Mohammed owns the local bakery, among the first shops to reopen. He says "business is ok but I'm looking forward to much better business in the future." He's confident that in "6 months Now Zad will be back."

The town, and his shop, have a long way to go. Four years ago the bakery was pumping out 1,200 loaves of bread a day. Today it's only producing about 200.

Now Zad's buildings, made mostly of mud, are in need of substantial repair. Many homes and shops were damaged by years of fighting, and every single building has deteriorated after exposure to the elements for years without any attention.