NEWS | Feb. 1, 2010

Marines help Afghans gather in protest aftermath

By Lance Cpl. Dwight Henderson , RCT-7

About 800 residents gather on the grounds of a school for a meeting in the Garmsir district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province. U.S. Marines and Afghan forces provided security.
About 800 residents gather on the grounds of a school for a meeting in the Garmsir district of Afghanistan’s Helmand province. U.S. Marines and Afghan forces provided security.

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Jan. 28, 2010) – Ironically, when protestors in the Garmsir district here set fire to a school Jan. 12 in a fervor over allegations that a Quran had been desecrated, about 300 copies of the Muslim holy book burned with the school.

On Jan. 19, the school's white walls were stained black from the fire and smoke that had billowed out of its broken windows just a week before. With Marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, providing security, about 800 Garmsir residents sat on the grounds of that school for a community meeting called a “shura.”

Helmand Gov. Mangal; British Maj. Gen. Nick P. Carter, International Security Assistance Force Regional Command South commander; and Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, Marine Expeditionary Brigade Afghanistan commander, spoke during the shura.

"We are here to help each other and to talk about the horrible incident that happened here and why it happened," Mangal said.

After an opening prayer, tribal elders, village elders and Abdullah Jan, the Garmsir district governor, spoke to the people about the demonstrations. "During the demonstration, the district governor, the police chief, and the colonel came together and solved the problem," one tribal elder said.

Mangal delivered a passionate speech about the protests and the district’s future. "The demonstration that happened here is not like the people of Garmsir," he said. "It was terrorists, and the Taliban, that used the people of Garmsir."

Mangal added that he would start his own investigation into the accusations of a desecrated Quran, saying he believes the allegation that sparked the demonstration was planned outside the country by foreign members of the Taliban.

"There was no way for the Taliban to fight with us," Mangal said. "The only way for them to fight with us was to use the civilian people. Our enemy doesn't like us to progress. They don't like us to be successful in our lives."

Mangal noted the restraint shown by U.S. Marines during the riots as the crowd damaged their vehicles with gunfire and stones. He promised to rebuild the school, and he spoke about the future of Helmand province pledging that in a short amount of time, “we are going to take over all districts from the Taliban."

"We'll make Helmand a peaceful place and make it a great place to live," the governor said.

Carter noted that out of Helmand’s 60 districts, Garmsir is one of the greatest examples of progress. He also commented on the restraint shown by the Marines.

"The restraint shown here is evident to how much they respect you," he told the local residents. "General Nicholson's forces are here to help you and protect you."

Nicholson said it was appropriate to have the shura in the school that had been damaged in the riots.

"The No. 1 target of this entire protest was to destroy this school, and that's because this school represents the future," he said. "This is where the future doctors, lawyers, engineers, and generals come from in Garmsir."

Nicholson told the local residents of the hours of cultural training Marines receive in preparation for deployment and promised that any Marine who showed disrespect or misconduct would be sent home.

The shura's message was of hope for the future of Garmsir and all of Helmand province through continued partnership between ISAF and Afghan forces and the local populace.

"If we work together, we can ensure something like this doesn't happen again and Garmsir can become one of the great cities of this country," Nicholson said.