Sunday, January 31, 2010
By C. J. CHIVERS, New York Times
Abdul Salam, an elder in this impoverished Afghan village, rose to meet the approaching Marines and Navy corpsman. Behind him, his mosque had a new concrete floor and two windows. Last month, before the Marines paid him to refurbish it, the mosque was windowless and had a dirt floor.
The Marines’ investment, $1,200 to pay for building materials and labor, was part of an outreach effort intended to reduce violence in Helmand Province.
Following the emphasis on a more assertive counterinsurgency approach mandated last year by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, here on some of the country’s most dangerous ground, infantry units are using this winter to try a soft touch.
In the province’s lower Nawa District, many conventional missions for now are a low priority. Airstrikes and high-explosive artillery fire are in disfavor. Even mortar fire is rare.
Instead, in places where it is able, the infantry is sending patrols to enter into development contracts with local men. The ambition is to use local labor to build bridges over canals, shore up irrigation systems, repair water gates or small dams and, in the most determined contest of influence against the Taliban, renovate mosques.
The effort rests on a simple premise: to fight the Taliban, money may be more effective than guns. “We’re trying to buy a little peace,” said Capt. Paul D. Stubbs, commanding officer of Company W, First Battalion, Third Marines, which operates in this area.
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