MARJAH, Afghanistan -- When 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment arrived in Marjah, parts of the region were unstable from months of fighting with Taliban forces. Many locals fled.
Once 2/9 identified specific hot spots of enemy activity, they quickly increased security patrols, constructed numerous new patrol bases, and took the fight directly to the insurgents’ front door.
One of the most dangerous areas was the Sistani Peninsula here, where entire blocks had been completely abandoned by villagers hoping to finding peace elsewhere.
After months of intense fighting, Marines and Afghan National Security forces have started to see signs of stability. Farmers are returning to their fields, empty school desks are filling up, and elders are participating in shuras to discuss how they can protect themselves against the Taliban.
As part of the stabilization process, key leaders in International Security Assistance Force and the local government of Helmand province traveled to Sistani, Oct. 22, where they hosted several shuras at various Marine Corps and Afghan National Army bases. The goal of the shuras was to show residents that freedom of movement has improved in the district and that locals can permanently stabilize the area by getting politically involved.
"It has been seven or eight months that security forces have been here in Marjah," said Marjah District Governor Abdul Mutalib Majbor to a crowd of elders. "They have established many posts and vehicle checkpoints in order to bring peace to the region. It is my request that all of you be serious about security. Focus all of your energy on the cooperation with coalition forces so we can bring peace and prosperity to our homes."
Lt . Col. Mubark Sha, commanding officer for ANCOP in Northern Marjah, addressed the crowd, pointing out how far Marjah has come since the beginning of operations here.
"The first day I arrived in Marjah, there was nobody to be found," said Sha. "All of the people vanished to other cities because of fear. Because of the ANA, ANCOP, and Marines ... people have started to come back to their homes."
Maj. Dallas E. Shaw, the operations officer of 2/9, explained that when his unit arrived here, they were receiving a weekly average of 80 significant activities reports, which account for direct-fire and IED attacks. Thanks to the combined efforts of Marines, partnered with the ANA and ANCOP, the number has dropped to approximately 30, allowing locals to get back to work and open schools, he said.
"One of the best indicators we have of stability is kids going to school," said Shaw. "Nowhere in the U.S. would parents allow their kids to go to school if they thought it was even a little bit dangerous. Now, across the area in some private schools, in combination with public schools, there [are] anywhere between 200 to 300 kids attending school."
Shaw said progress in schools has been significant, considering that attendance was zero just weeks prior.
One by one, key government officials rallied the crowd to embrace change, take charge of their villages, and cooperate with security forces.
"Now is the time we need to come together and rebuild our country that has been at war for over three decades," said Baz Gul, interim community council leader for Marjah. "No matter how many Marines, ANCOP, and ANA there are, we will never have full security until you stand together and help them."