The Afghan flag flies again over Marjah. Afghan and coalition forces are reportedly in control of two-thirds of the Taliban’s last urban bastion in Helmand province.
But the going is painfully slow. Civilians have been killed, outnumbering the six soldiers the push has cost so far. That is because the Taliban shoot from behind human shields says the Afghan army, and because the government is being ultra-careful.
“We don’t want to end up killing loads of civilians. If we do that we don’t win. So the Taliban, very canny, you cannot blame them of being anything else, will know that. If they use human shields they put NATO forces in a bit of a predicament. They either fire, and potentially kill civilians, or let the Taliban get away, let the Taliban shoot them,” says defence analyst Francis Tusa.
There are successes though, like the capture of the Taliban’s military commander in Karachi, and breakup of their network of munitions dumps around Marjah.
“The Taliban were here so the American forces came and bombed the area. People have come out of their homes and have fled into the desert without food, water and shelter… there are women and children who are living under very harsh conditions.”
The challenge for the Afghan government is to quickly expel all hostiles so development work can begin. The government claims the money is waiting to pour in, to prove to local people Kabul means business. Every day lost to fighting is a day wasted in winning hearts and minds.