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Taliban controlling Marjah by night

by Tom Mellen

March 18 2010

Militants are regaining control of Marjah, residents have reported, less than a month after Western military officials claimed to have seized the Afghan town from the Taliban.

Marjah is now home to an occupation force numbering more than one Nato soldier or Afghan police officer for every eight residents.

But militants are stepping up an underground campaign against officials loyal to the Western-backed Karzai regime.

Walid Jan Sabir, who represents Marjah and the surrounding Nad Ali District in the Afghan parliament, said that he had heard reports from Marjah elders visiting his office in Kabul this week of two beheadings of pro-government elders, both members of the government's Community Development Council.

And a tribal elder living in Marjah said that, after dark, "it is like the kingdom of the Taliban - the government and foreign forces cannot defend anyone even one kilometre from their bases."

New governor of Marjah Haji Abdul Zahir acknowledged that guerillas "still have a lot of sympathy among the people."

Mr Zahir said that militants are now holding meetings in randomly selected homes roughly every other night, gathering residents together and demanding that they turn over the names of anyone co-operating with the authorities.

The Taliban regularly issued "night letters" posted at mosques or on utility poles warning against collaboration, added the governor. They often intimidated residents into providing them with shelter and food, even in densely populated neighbourhoods of the city.

He said that it was difficult for the authorities to counter the Taliban's campaign because the militants were mostly moving around without guns.

"If they are detained, they claim they are just ordinary citizens," Mr Zahir said.

US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Rule said: "Dislocating the insurgents physically was easy - dislocating them socially is a lot harder."

Mervyn Patterson, a former UN political affairs expert in Afghanistan, predicted that the Taliban would "reinfiltrate in due course as the Afghan government fails to live up to the modest expectations Nato has of it.

"I do not think that the Taliban have been weakened in Helmand by the loss of Marjah - they will gradually return."

Journalists are still barred from visiting Marjah unless they are "embedded" with the US military.






:: Article nr. 64315 sent on 19-mar-2010 14:12 ECT

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