Back in Afghanistan, McClatchy’s Saeed Shah reports that only about 1200 residents have fled the Afghan city of Marjah in Nad Ali district, ahead of a major NATO/ Afghan invasion planned for later this week. The city of 80,000 is controlled by some 2000 Taliban fighters and there are many heroin labs, the profits of which help to support the Taliban.
The lucrative poppy crops grown in this region are all that is left of a 1950s & 1960s US irrigation scheme that went bad, and Marjah and environs were nicknamed “Little America.”
The refusal of locals to leave in any large numbers may be what prompted US commanders to begin telling the people of Marjah to ‘stay inside their homes’ and stay out of the way of the fighting. This message is a 180 degree reversal of the earlier message, that locals should leave.
CBS News reports embedded with the US Marines outside Marjah, to the southwest of the Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah. This report gives the impression that substantial numbers of civilians have left or are leaving, but this assertion appears not to be true.
The NATO / Kabul plan is to chase the Taliban out of Marjah, win local hearts and minds, and garrison it with Afghan army troops in the aftermath to ensure that the Taliban do not return. This plan requires that the operation not do so much damage to the city and kill so many locals that they are alienated in the long term.
This would require a good deal more care than the US led forces have taken so far, so I expect the in/em -bed reporters of corporate news will be again working overtime to portray a favourable spin to mass civilian deaths. Expect stories of tragic yet heroic soldiers killed by eveel swarthy hordes and maybe in a throwaway last line ‘and 400 Afghans killed today’. The BBC is going with- Afghan villages abandoned before Nato-led operation Hundreds of villagers living in a Taliban-controlled area of southern Afghanistan are leaving before a major Nato-led offensive gets under way. -While carefully avoiding mention of the vast majority, the thousands who are still there except in a little fact box that is entitled ‘MARJAH: ‘TALIBAN STRONGHOLD’ see how that works? So while the on the ground assault is called Operation Moshtarak, is that also the name for the media warfare operation that is clearly already being deployed?