Writing today for Slate Magazine, Vanessa Gezari recounts the success of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines in securing Nawa, Afghanistan and returning control of the village to its residents. Under the direction of Lt. Col. Bill McCollough, the specially-trained Marine battalion eradicated hard-line Taliban elements and has begun the difficult process of reconciling less-committed insurgents with the community, all while building lasting ties with the village that aim to ensure its long-term security. The 1st Battalion’s success demonstrates the approach Coalition Forces (International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF) should be taking in many parts of the country, but as Ms. Gezari points out, the Marines’ approach is very troop intensive and requires long-term commitment.
When the battalion first arrived in early July, Nawa was overrun with Taliban insurgents. The bazaar, because of the insecurity, was mostly deserted. Overnight, hundreds of Marines began patrolling the village streets, engaging with insurgents and greeting villagers. As a result of the overwhelming Marine presence, the Taliban abandoned the village, allowing the Marines to begin the more-difficult task of rebuilding the village and reconciling former insurgents with the community.
After returning security to the village of Nawa by force, the Marines next turned their focus to rebuilding the community. Using special training in counterinsurgency and Afghan culture, Lt. Col. McCollough and his men built partnerships with local government and tribal leaders, using these joint efforts to welcome back former insurgents no longer deemed threats to the community. As part of its reconciliation efforts, infrastructure repair projects funded by USAID (US Agency for International Development) employed former insurgents to undo the damage caused by eight years of war. The Marines continued foot patrols in the village and mediated disputes arising during reconstruction efforts. By September, with the bazaar regularly open and security returning, the villagers’ biggest concern is how much longer the Marines will be in Nawa.
Read the full article: “Talking to the Enemy: How one company of Marines is helping to bring Afghan insurgents home,” Vanessa M. Gezari, Slate.com, October 16, 2009.