About the Author: Ed Messmer serves with District Support Team Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The district of Marjah in Helmand Province, which had been a center of insurgent activity for nearly two years, was liberated from the Taliban in February 2010 as U.S. Marines entered in force. Due to its importance to the insurgency, the district was the scene of heavy kinetic activity through the spring and early summer. But by late summer, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), teamed with their ISAF colleagues, had cleared central Marjah of almost all activity, creating a secure environment in which economic and political activity is rapidly expanding.
The turning point may have occurred on the day parliamentary elections were held (September 18) when ANSF and ISAF successfully protected more than 100 election officials at 12 polling sites spread across this far-flung district, despite dire warnings from the insurgency they would "destroy" the election process. Since that date, the secure center has been steadily pushed out to the margins of the district.
Development projects are now progressing well, seven schools enjoy increasing enrollment, the district's bazaars are busy with commerce, and roads and irrigation canals are rapidly being improved. At present, we are in the midst of a concerted effort to assist farmers of the district to switch out of poppy cultivation, which under the Taliban had become their primary crop. With the distribution of high quality seed, fertilizer, and farming equipment, along with the creation of new farming cooperatives that allow for efficiencies of scale, we feel confident that poppy production will steadily decrease, thereby further weakening the insurgency in this critical district. In only ten months, Marjah, despite considerable challenges, has come a long way on the road to stability and renewed prosperity.
The Today Show's Lester Holt was recently in Afghanistan for a series of live broadcasts from throughout the country, including Marjah. See that clip here.