KAJAKI SOFLA, Helmand Province, Afghanistan --
In celebration of Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holiday, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, and Afghan National Security Forces took steps to foster ties with the local citizens of Kajaki Sofla.
The area had seen little evidence of the Afghan government in the past six years, and until the outset of Operation Eastern Storm, served as a safe haven and logistical hub for insurgent forces in Northern Helmand province.
The holiday, which spans multiple days, is a religious celebration with a focus on making amends with enemies, explained Sgt. Chris Gonzalez, Civil Affairs team chief with 4th Civil Affairs Group in support of Company B, 1/6.
“It’s a day of reunion and reconciliation, with a focus on charitable giving, encouraging participants to give away 1% of wealth,” said Gonzalez, who along with his team, joined members of the Afghan Uniformed Police in giving away rice and beans purchased from the Kajaki Sofla Bazaar.
“When you give rice and beans as opposed to money, you show you are respecting their wishes, and their culture,” explained Gonzalez, addressing concerns brought up by the locals that the gap between the western and eastern cultures is an obstacle to overcome before there can be true cooperation between coalition forces, and the local populace.
“It’s one of the things they ask us to do. Acknowledging and respecting culture one of the things the children and elders alike have repeatedly asked us to do to,” said Gonzalez.
Opting to donate food in lieu of money serves another purpose, Gonzalez explained. Money can flood an area, and inevitably bring forth a landslide of short term benefits, but what happens when the strings tighten on the coin purse, when the money stops coming? Instead, civil affairs personnel like Gonzalez, focus on high impact, low income projects, where a smaller amount of money can go a longer way.
“We can give them money, but not if you look at setting them up for long term success,” said Gonzalez. “We’re looking at the long term goal of setting up processes. A good example is the canal project we are working on. It's supposed to help 4,000 families and all we're doing is supplying a tractor and a few other supplies. It costs minimal money and will have a high impact.”
Civil projects like the construction of new canals and irrigation systems, wells and other forms of infrastructure form the bedrock for success in the area, but the pillars come from establishing strong ties between the local citizens and the local police – the one consistent representation of the Afghan government the people in Kajaki Sofla have.
“The relationship between Marines and the populace is important, but for long-term stability the relationship between ANSF and the local populace is critical,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, and members of the Police Advisory Team, tasked with supporting their Afghan counterparts, hope by having the AUP participate in Eid, give away food to local children, and interact with shop keepers and customers at the bazaar, that these bonds will be forged.
“We’re trying to put an AUP face on everything,” said Lance Cpl. Justin Blosser, a police advisor, from Mansfield, Ohio and a 2009 graduate of Madison Comprehensive High School. “They have to learn to do it on their own. We took that first step, then used AUP counterparts so he could put their face on what we're doing. You have to understand that it's not our house, it’s theirs, and we're trying to build relationships on both sides.”
Editors Note: The 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division (Forward)/Task Force Leatherneck. Task force Leatherneck serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.