McChrystal said this decision comes in light of the situation in neighboring Helmand Province, where U.S. Marines led NATO troops in a five-day offensive in February that seized control of Marjah and other districts held by the Taliban. At the time some Marine officers said they had achieved catastrophic success, but today they face opposition from many area residents, and Taliban forces have reemerged.
The plan in Marjah, according to McChrystal, was to win hearts and minds of residents by delivering government in a box. In May, however, he told officers that Marjah has become a bleeding ulcer. The U.S. government had plans to hire 10,000 Marjah residents for day-labor projects to clean irrigation canals, but as of early June only 1,200 people signed up, with many fearing retribution from the Taliban if they did so, reported the Washington Post. A plan to distribute 4,000 water pumps to farmers has also been scaled back by 75 percent.
The people have to want you to protect them, McChrystal said in a statement about why Washington is not ready to proceed with the Kandahar operation. It takes time to convince people.
The number of U.S. aid workers increased to 110 from 8 last year, with 50 more on their way this summer, a U.S. official told the New York Times.
Meanwhile, U.S. and NATO forces are increasing their troop presence in the area. By the end of August they will have about 23,000 soldiers in Kandahar, three times as many as a year ago. U.S. president Barack Obama had ordered 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan last December. All of them are expected to be in place by August. The Afghan war began in October 2001.
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