COMBAT OUTPOST TURBETT, Afghanistan --
Few would argue that in recent months Marjah has become a safer place, and if you ask 1st Lt. Taylor Williams, platoon commander for Weapons Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, he’ll tell you there has been tremendous success. However, these Marines aren’t done yet.
“When we first came in, we took contact every day for about the first two and-a-half months,” said Williams, 24, from Raleigh, N.C. “The conditions were not stable enough for a (citizen-ran) security program in the northern part of our area.”
That security program, known as the Interim Security Critical Infrastructure program, relies on cooperation from Afghan locals. With their partnership, it works like a neighborhood watch.
“Now it seems like the locals are ready to sustain their own type of police force here,” Williams said. “The security situation has changed significantly down here.”
Marines of Fox Co., 2/6 held a meeting, known in Afghanistan as a shura, with locals here to discuss the ISCI program. Marjah’s citizens see the progress around them, and the timing for the program seems right, explained Walidad Ghulamzoi, a village elder who attended the shura.
“We have seen the changes here,” Ghulamzoi said. “This time last year, the Taliban was running this area. Since the Marines have come in, we can sleep safely in our homes again.”
Taliban fighters have become increasingly isolated in the urban sprawl of Marjah. Their areas of influence have become smaller, but their presence lingers. Local Marines and Afghan National Security forces believe ISCI will further marginalize the Taliban’s presence.
Now that security has improved, the planning for the expansion of ISCI is underway, explained Valdez.
“This area has come a long way,” said Cpl. Richard Valdez, a civil affairs specialist assigned to 2/6. “It’s great to see all the changes here. There used to be firefights everyday. It wasn’t a good area.”
Though security is a pillar for the US and Afghan strategy here, it is making way for the other projects Marines and Afghan police and soldiers have underway.
“I am most proud of the school we created here,” said Valdez, 22, from Pico Rivera, Calif. “Having a place to learn and play is a huge deal for these kids. The next generation will lead this country, so it’s vital they have basic human rights as well as an education.”
The school attendance near the company’s outpost rose from roughly 120 to almost 400 just in the last month.
The Marines have also partnered with shopkeepers in the nearby bazaar to help renovate shops, and will soon reopen another bazaar, previously abandoned because of Taliban intimidation.
“I think what we’re doing is obviously working,” Valdez said. “I could only hope that a year from now it will be even better.”