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Afghan Meeting in Marja Attracts 200 Residents

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2010 – Meetings of influential villagers have outnumbered military engagements over the last few days in Operation Moshtarak in the central portion of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, military officials reported today.

At the invitation of Helmand Gov. Gulab Mangal, the Nad-e Ali deputy district governor held such a meeting, called a “shura,” in Marja that was attended by 200 residents.

Haji Zahir, the deputy district governor, spoke about improving security conditions and said that more Afghan National Police would be posted in Marja. He promised to ensure the opening of shops and clinics, and personally oversaw the distribution of rice, beans, cooking oil and sugar to the gathering.

New shops have opened at bazaars in Marja, with new products such as telephones, computers and other electronics being offered alongside fresh fruits and vegetables.

International Security Assistance Force Joint Command officials reported “a significant increase” in the number of local residents returning to the area, accompanied by a decrease in the number of residents registering as internally displaced persons.

Yesterday, officials said, only 144 families registered, down from 165 the day before.

Occasional small-arms engagements are still being reported, and roadside bombs remain as the greatest threat to civilians and security forces, officials said.

Tips from civilians reporting the locations of roadside bombs have increased by nearly 50 percent, officials said, and a greater number of homemade bombs being turned in by central Helmand residents. Both of these trends, officials said, are contributing to greater safety and security for civilians and combined forces in the area.

In other news, an Afghan-international security force found several caches of weapons and drugs in the Gizab district of Daykundi province today.

The caches contained more than a half ton of ammonium nitrate, more than 100 pounds of opium, more than 2 pounds of pure heroin, a small bag of opium seeds, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, a shotgun, two assault rifles, a bolt-action rifle and a substantial amount of ammunition.

The security force arrested a suspected insurgent in the operation, who is now in Afghan police custody.

In the Marja area of Helmand province, a security patrol found a substantial amount of ammonium nitrate in a compound. The patrol was involved in clearing the city in support of Operation Moshtarak when they found more than 5,000 pounds of the potentially explosive material along with bomb components.

Ammonium nitrate-based homemade explosives continue to be used in the production of the roadside bombs that cause the majority of civilian and military casualties in Afghanistan, officials said. The amount of ammonium nitrate in these caches could have produced more than 13,000 pounds of explosive material.

The Afghan government recently banned ammonium nitrate-based fertilizers, and farmers are encouraged to use fertilizers containing urea nitrate as an alternative.

(Compiled from International Security Assistance Force Joint Command news releases.)

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