MARJAH, Afghanistan – One by one, residents of Marjah stood up before Afghan officials Monday to voice complaints – their houses damaged, relatives killed during this month’s massive military offensive in southern Afghanistan.
The frank litany of problems – aired at a meeting called to affirm central government support – highlights the challenge in store for NATO and Afghan authorities as they seek to transform the former Taliban stronghold into a model for counterinsurgency.
Their visit occurred on a day when six NATO service members were killed in separate attacks around the country, showing that hard fighting lies ahead even if pacifying Marjah is successful. At least 10 Afghan civilians also died in a string of bombings in the south, officials said.
An Afghan government delegation from Kabul, headed by Vice President Karim Khalili, made its initial foray to the town to meet with some 300 tribal elders and residents at the largest shura, or council meeting, since coalition troops seized control of Marjah last month.
NATO military commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal and civilian chief Mark Sedwill came along in a sign that international forces intend to support the Afghan government’s efforts in the troubled south.
“The most important thing is to bring peace and stability to the people in Afghanistan,” Khalili told the residents. “This is a promise. … It’s our priority to talk to each other. But others want to prevent this. We will not allow them to keep people hostage again. This is a beginning in Marjah. We will be with you. We will stay and fight. We will bring you good governance.”
The six NATO service members who died Monday included one killed when a suicide car bomber struck a convoy on a bridge between Kandahar city and the local airport, a major alliance base in the south.