FORWARD OPERATING BASE SHER WALI, Afghanistan --
For six Afghan men, the reintegration shura was the start to a new chapter in each of their lives. Each man smiled ear-to ear, as he symbolically handed an AK-47 rifle to Haji Sattar, the Helmand provincial deputy governor. They were ready to put their Taliban affiliations behind and return to Afghan society.
The men took part in the first of several scheduled reintegration shuras at Forward Operating Base Sher Wali, Marjah, Helmand province, June 23. During the event, several speakers from the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan stood in front of an audience to discuss the reintegration process.
The men publically cut ties with the Taliban at the event. They were forgiven by the GIRoA for any past transgressions and were allowed to return to their homes following their “graduation.”
“Some Taliban that are out there want to lay down their weapons.” said Sattar to the crowd. “We understand some of them were forced to fight and were led astray. We welcome them back into society and will provide jobs for them.”
“The Afghan government is forgiving them for their past,” said Capt. Christopher Hoover, 3/6’s judge advocate. “Whatever they’ve done in the past is in the past and they’re allowed to go back on with their daily lives. Today was pretty much a turn-around point in their lives.”
Also at the shura, GIRoA representatives asked the audience to embrace and facilitate in the numerous improvements throughout Marjah. They hope that with new schools, clinics, jobs and improved infrastructure around the area, the newly reintegrated Afghans and other current Taliban fighters will decide to put down their weapons and contribute to the area’s growth.
“What have the Taliban done for you in the last two-and-a-half years?” asked Sattar of the crowd. “They take your food and money when you have very little of each. You gave them two-and-a-half years. Now give us the same amount of time and see what we provide. We will give you roads, clinics and schools.”
The Marines have mixed emotions about allowing former members of the Taliban back into society. However, the Afghan government wishes to reintegrate certain people and the Marines support their decision.
“It’s a hard thing to swallow. It really is,” said Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, commanding officer of 3/6. “There’s been talk in the media. There’s been talk on blogs about, ‘how can you put these people back on the street? How can you trust them?’
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Christmas added. “What matters is that it’s right for this government here, and it’s right for their future.”