By ELISABETH BUMILLER
WASHINGTON – The commander in charge of southern Afghanistan acknowledged on Wednesday that “we are not yet where we need to be” in the farming zone of Marja, the site of a major offensive in February that sought to flush out the Taliban. The commander, Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, also said that a more complex military operation was on schedule to begin in the city of Kandahar in June.
General Carter, the commander of British forces in Marja and of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, was effectively asking for more time to show results in Marja, where clashes between the Taliban and American, British and Afghan forces continue. In February, General Carter predicted that it would take three more months to determine if government efforts after the end of the fighting had won over residents.
Speaking from Afghanistan by video teleconference to reporters at the Pentagon, General Carter said Wednesday of Marja that “we’re making progress,” but “in counterinsurgency, it takes time, it takes patience and it’s frustrating.” He said the Taliban were still intimidating local residents and that the council of the newly appointed district governor, Hajji Abdul Zahir, “is not genuinely representative of all of the people of Marja.”
On the positive side, General Carter said that 8 of 15 schools in Marja were open, the Marja bazaars were functioning and that the 600,000 people in central Helmand Province could move freely between villages and towns. Before February, General Carter said, the Taliban were so entrenched in Marja that NATO forces did not fly helicopters over the area for fear of being shot down.
In Kandahar, General Carter said there were 500 to 1,000 insurgents who had the ability to control the population in districts around the city. “They will be a military challenge to resolve,” he said. But in an echo of other top commanders, General Carter said that much of the military operation in Kandahar would consist of rolling governance and police protection into a chaotic hub of nearly one million people.
“If you go to the city today, you’ll find a thriving, bustling commercial environment, with bazaars and businesses and people earning a living,” he said.
But electricity, sanitation, health care, education and political control were all limited, the general said. “The mayor’s office is not much more than one man deep, and similarly the governor’s office,” he said.
Over the next six months, General Carter said American, NATO and Afghan forces would try to cut off insurgents’ movements by establishing a security perimeter around the city. “This is not going to be terribly exciting for you chaps in the press to look into,” he said.