Marines Diffuse Afghanistan Anti-American Riots

Darvishan, Afghanistan – Afghan government and community leaders are continuing efforts in this district capital to diffuse Taliban-fed tensions that resulted in anti-American rioting last week.

The rioting last Tuesday saw U.S. and Afghan forces at an outpost here besieged by rock throwing mobs and being shot at by unidentified gunmen amid a rumor that American Marines had desecrated a Koran — Islam’s holy book — and mistreated women during a raid on an outlying village house to detain suspected members of the radical Islamist terror group.

“I think this thing has run its course here,” a staff officer with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines said at COP (combat outpost) Delhi, located on the edge of Darvishan. “The local leaders and the mullahs know we didn’t do that (Koran desecration) and having been talking to the people.

“On Wednesday they helped turn back more than 90 percent of the groups (of villagers) trying to enter the town.”

Since last Tuesday there have been no new demonstrations or major rock-throwing incidents in Darvishan.

Darvisahan, located along the Helmand River, is the governance center for the Garmser district of Helmand Province, where U.S. Marines have been steadily disrupting and degrading Taliban terrorist cells and units. Terrorist influence remains, however, through a continuing campaign of intimidation of the local population, which live in isolated villages.

Marines say that Taliban influence is eroding as Americans establish joint outposts with Afghan soldiers and police, conduct security missions in ever increasing numbers, interact daily with the people and start building projects such as schools, clinics and improved irrigation canals.

But progress can still be undone, and Tuesday’s rioting was an example of that.

“I think he (the Taliban) tried something Tuesday that from a truly tactical perspective was a success,” said Lt. Col. John McDonough, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines in Darmser District. “We have to counter it with a persistent and pervasive over-communication of the truth. And the truth is, what they (the Taliban) claim about the desecration of the Koran never happened.

“We need to chalk up Tuesday as an unfortunate incident and get back to business,” he said.

The Taliban’s main weapon against U.S. and Afghan forces here are improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted along roads and village fields and footpaths used by security forces. Daily route clearance and sweeping of areas by Marines and Afghan troops, however, turn up the IEDs in large numbers before they can cause harm.

Staff officers of 2-2 believe Tuesday’s rioting was either pre-planned by the Taliban or that the group jumped on the rumor and used it to stir up anger.

“It was crazy here,” said Lance Corp. David Van Dyne. “It was raining rocks.”

Van Dyne was at the Garmser District Government Center where Marines maintain a nine-man police mentoring team. Several hundred people surrounded the center Tuesday. Van Dyne said that before the violence they had seen tractors pulling trailers with people in the distance towards the center.

For several hours the mob threw stones at the facility, which has 12-foot high walls. Three Marines were knocked unconscious in the barrages, he said. Marines on building roofs threw some smoke grenades but were forbidden to fire upon the crowd by senior officers at COP Delhi.

“Even if we could shoot we wouldn’t have been able to get clean shots,” he said. “There were rocks in the air every six inches.”

Some in the crowd, he said, fired on the small compound with AK-47s and a Marine Quick Reaction Force sent to augment the besieged Marines was also fired upon.

At the end of the day about six people were killed in the Darvishan area, including a member of the Afghan security forces and a gunman felled by a Marine sniper firing from COP Delhi.

A school across the street from the District Center outpost was burned as were several nearby vehicles.

Mobs, which were seen being led by several known Taliban, later dispersed after community elders spoke with government and Marine officials and convinced demonstrators to leave.

Calm had completely returned to the town by Thursday and by Saturday virtually all the shops in the bazaar next to the government center had reopened.

A representative from the provincial governor’s office visited Darvishan last week and met with local officials and community elders. He also began an investigation into the alleged Koran desecration. Sources said the official spoke with the man who had claimed his Koran had been desecrated and after examining the holy book berated the man for making a false charge.

Marines broadcast messages for calm by community and government leaders over a local U.S.-sponsored radio station.

“The Taliban want to continue this,” the Marine staff officer said late last week. “I don’t think they thought it would be as big as it was. They keep pressing out their message against us but it (the tension) is dying down. People around here now realize the story was false.”

Marines, however, are concerned that the Taliban — encouraged by the level of violence and the disruption it caused — may attempt the tactic in other districts of the province.