Sergeant Jim Shevlin, a civil affairs Marine with 4th Civil Affairs Group, Regimental Combat Team 8, posts security while other civil affairs Marines interact with the populous of Now Zad, Afghanistan, Feb. 22. Photo by Lance Cpl. Clayton Vonderahe.
NOW ZAD, AFGHANISTAN (March 10, 2011) — Buildings lay in ruins. Vast stretches of the city are either destroyed or abandoned. Fields are bordered with rocks painted red and white, signifying if they are cleared of mines or if they are still unsafe to walk in. A destroyed Soviet tank lays to the wayside of the streets, clearly identifying the rough battles this area has seen.
The city’s inhabitants have dwindled from roughly 1,000 families to around 150. The inhabitants of Now Zad, Afghanistan have prevailed through vast hardships, and with the help of the Civil Affairs Team from 4th Civil Affairs Group, Regimental Combat Team 8, the town can hopefully be resurrected to greater strengths than it was before.
In the past year, Now Zad has been under reconstruction and development through the efforts of the Civil Affairs Team from 11th Marines Civil Affairs. In late February 2011, the new team took the reins and plans to continue the development.
“At the point we are stepping into, we are following possibly one of the most important years in Now Zad’s history,” said Maj. Aniela Szymanski, the team leader of the 4th CAG Civil Affairs Team in Now Zad. “2010 was vital, 2011 will be decisive.”
The team’s goal is to help develop the government and create a stable economy. In short, they are trying to help the city of Now Zad to operate on its own merit, without the aide of Marines.
Currently, one of the issues at hand is the task of developing an operating government that is developed around the existing tribal customs of the area. The district governor currently holds shuras, or meetings, where he listens to the grievances of the elders in his area and tries to work out their problems. This is similar to a gathering at a town hall in America, but it incorporates the customs and traditions of the locals.
“We don’t want them to think it’s an infidel government because it’s not,’ says Szymanski. “It is a government of their own people, for their own people.”
Through the development of a stabile, working government, the team hopes to further expand the size of Now Zad’s government. This will provide a stronger foundation for the citizens as well as stimulate the local economy.
“What we essentially have is a small cell of capable, legitimate, government officials; what we need is more,” says Szymanski.
Szymanski continued to explain that they are currently working with a “skeleton crew” of functioning government employees. One of their goals is to find more qualified individuals to help fill the gaps.
Along with the development and expansion of the government, the team hopes to address other issues or topics of interest, such as; a justice system, a women’s center, agricultural development, a comprehensive health clinic and vocational training.
Because the team of 10 is twice as large as the previous team, they hope to expand their influence to the outer areas of the security bubble in Now Zad.
Through the previous ground work laid out in the area, the arriving team hopes to capitalize off of the progress that has already been established and further the progress by spreading it to a greater area of Now Zad.
“We can’t come in and change their rules,” said Szymanski. “We have to carry on the torch that they worked so hard to light and we have to keep it burning.”
Developing the local government and boosting the economy are subtle yet effective ways of fighting insurgency operations in the area. Through the past and future efforts of civil affairs, they hope to have further success at stopping Taliban operations in Now Zad.
“I think that Now Zad is the poster child for COIN (counter insurgency) operations,” said Szymanski. “It has worked beautifully in this area. To go from intense fighting to having locals greet Marines in the streets and not be afraid to be seen with them; it is incredible.”
Though the team has large shoes to fill, they are ambitious and motivated to further the progress in Now Zad. For the next seven months, they will be devoting every waking minute to ensuring the people and the city of Now Zad are on their way to reconstruction and a brighter future.