MARJAH, Afghanistan --
Speakers held the full attention of their audience for the entire afternoon as they passionately addressed a crowd of Afghan villagers during a shura at Forward Operating Base Sher Wali, Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan May 29.
They put forth ideas on how to rebuild their home – Marjah, an area that has been plagued by Taliban oppression for many years.
A majority of the speakers were local elders from around the area. They talked at length about the necessity for locals to unite against the Taliban in order for Marjah to recover.
“The Taliban here will behead you for a water pump! Why are they ruining beautiful Marjah?” asked a fervent Azrat Mowlando Mohammad, a former member of the Taliban, who has become disillusioned with the organization. “Let’s unite and build our country.”
The speakers were also quick to mention that the Marines of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and soldiers from the Afghan National Army were in Afghanistan to improve Marjah, not to tear it apart.
“The people that are fighting are young and don’t have knowledge,” said Gul Mohammad, an elder. “Bring them back into the fold and educate them that America is here to help.”
Although the speakers spoke on the need for Afghans to unite against the Taliban, they also spoke of reconciliation and forgiveness. They want to rehabilitate low-level insurgent fighters and reintegrate them back into society.
“Our brothers, sons and nephews are Taliban,” said Haji Zahir, Marjah’s district governor, while addressing the audience. “The Taliban don’t fly in overnight and fly out the next day. They live amongst us. Let’s put down our weapons voluntarily and not from being forced.”
There was a sense that this shura was particularly important. An estimated 410 Afghans packed the audience. Many of the speakers gave fiery and, at times, electrifying speeches, which drew reactions from the crowd.
“The first three speakers were extremely passionate,” said Lt. Col. Brian S. Christmas, 3/6’s commanding officer. “They got up and said, ‘We’ve got to make a change.’ That’s a positive.”
The event, hosted by 3/6 and the ANA, was seen as a success. The large, attentive crowd was packed with a high percentage of village elders –Afghan men with a high degree of influence in the area. They seemed to be supportive of the ideas presented by the speakers.
“The number of people and type of people that showed up (was encouraging),” said Christmas. “It wasn’t just a bunch of farmers. It was no kidding, block elders; guys that are in charge of compounds, villages or even larger. It was a great step forward.”