The Fight for Marjah

The Fight for Marjah:

Recent Counterinsurgency Operations in Southern Afghanistan

by Brett Van Ess

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In early 2010, in response to violent and rampant insurgent operations in the long-held Taliban stronghold of Marjah, located in central Helmand province, the International Security Assistance Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan began implementing a population-centric counterinsurgency campaign. This strategy stands in contrast to the counternarcotics and counterterrorism focus in Marjah from 2001 to late 2009. Initial elements of this new campaign plan were implemented in February 2010 when Operation Moshtarak began in Marjah.

This paper details the counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in Marjah over the last year. The first section of the paper provides a background on operations in Marjah from prior to 2009 and an explanation of the structural organization of insurgent forces in Marjah. The second section of the paper describes Operation Moshtarak, the February 2010 assault on Marjah. This section details efforts by ISAF and Afghan forces to clear insurgents from their stronghold in Marjah as well as the actions by insurgent fighters to target ISAF forces and to maintain their influence over the population through intimidation. The paper concludes with a discussion of governance and policing efforts in Marjah. Counterinsurgent forces struggled to form a legitimate political authority and police force capable of convincing the local population that a new governing authority would bring security to Marjah. The case study of Marjah provides useful examples of successful and failed tactics and policies for future COIN operations in southern Afghanistan.

Download the Full Article: The Fight for Marjah

Brett Van Ess was an Institute for the Study of War contributor during the spring and summer of 2010. He is currently a graduate student at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He has also studied at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and holds a MA in Diplomacy and Military Studies from Hawaii Pacific University. Brett was formerly a United States Marine. This report was concluded in early September 2010.

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