American Forces Press Service
MARJAH, Afghanistan – Simply by walking through the marketplace here today, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter showed how much progress has taken place in this former Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Carter visited a forward operating base and the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, before he walked through the village’s marketplace with no issues. He got a firsthand look at work under way to expand capacity at the base, touring numerous construction areas.
The deputy secretary received an operational update from local Afghan national security force leaders and the district governor before moving on to the Marjah marketplace, where Taliban insurgents once operated with impunity.
In contrast to violent protests elsewhere in the aftermath of Muslim religious materials being inadvertently mishandled at Bagram Airfield, Carter encountered no protests, upheaval or disturbances in Marjah. The village remained tranquil as Carter, the district governor and Afghan military and police leaders walked through the streets.
A walk down Marjah’s marketplace was unthinkable as recently as 2010, when Operation Moshtarak was launched to free the area from Taliban control.
Carter called Marjah a “great success story” as he walked through the marketplace. Curious children came by and local residents followed on motorcycles as Carter made his way up and down the streets.
Along his route walking back to the base, Carter stopped and bought snacks from a local merchant for the village children who were tagging along. At another brief stop, he examined another merchant’s wares.
As he departed, Carter thanked the district governor and Afghan security force leaders for the opportunity to walk through the marketplace, again referring to the peaceful village as one of many “great success stories” in Afghanistan.
Carter’s first stop today was at the Chaman Gate, one of two major border crossings with neighboring Pakistan. The Pakistani government closed the crossing to NATO traffic amid recent tensions. The deputy secretary visited with local Afghan police and customs officials, toured a new biometrics facility and got a firsthand view of the daily traffic at the crossing.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby, who is along on the trip, said this was Carter’s second visit to Chaman Gate, and that he noted the progress made in adding controls to the border post to put pressure on smugglers of explosive materials.
“American and Afghan military officials updated Carter on security at the Chaman Gate and gave him a better sense of the impact its closing to NATO traffic has had on resupply efforts,” Kirby said. Though Carter expressed his hope that Pakistan soon would allow alliance goods to begin flowing again, Kirby added, he was assured that operations in Afghanistan had not yet been adversely affected.
Carter's next stop was to Regional Command Southwest, where he received updates from Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Toolan Jr. about the progress of transition efforts and improved security throughout the region. Roughly half of Helmand's districts are in or will soon be in the process of transitioning to Afghan security lead, Kirby noted.