HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
The sound of children playing and merchants price haggling fills the bustling Garmsir district bazaar, a stark contrast from what was here two months ago.
When Marines rolled though 70 days ago, the city center looked more like a ghost town than a place of commerce., but with insurgents no longer lurking in the shadows, shop keepers returned; eager to conduct business.
As of July 11, approximately 70 stores are now open, providing goods ranging from food and convenience store items to livestock auctions with cows, hundreds of sheep and goats and other animals for sale or trade, for more than 600 people daily.
Prior to the more than 1,000 plus combat-trained Marines operating in the southern province, the town’s main marketplace was an unscrupulous locale paid for and controlled by insurgents, said Master Gunnery Sgt. John Garth, civil affairs chief, 24th MEU, ISAF. “A lot of people didn’t want to go to it because of the (insurgents’) presence,” he said.
Today the Marines of Alpha Battery, Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 24th MEU, ISAF toured the line of stores, and amid the normalcy of the shopping they could put the scene in context.
Sgt. Zachary Thompson, radio operator, Alpha Battery, BLT 1/6, 24th MEU, ISAF, drove through the site of the newly opened bazaar a month prior.
“Desolate,” he explained. “There were no civilians at all.”
With that in mind, there is nothing ordinary about the city’s return to normalcy.
“It shows that people feel safe enough in their own community to come back out,” he said, a feeling that is shared by more than Sunday shoppers. “You see a lot more of them on the side of the road, more people out playing in the canal.”
One merchant, speaking to Garth, gave one reason for the bolstered confidence of the locals.
“Before, everything was bad,” an interpreter relayed. “Since you guys got here the Taliban are not here.”
As the Marines made their way through the bazaar an ordinary Afghan National Police pick-up truck approached the patrol, but much like the shopping center, complexities are in the details. A gray-haired, uniformed policeman exited the vehicle and greeted the patrol; he was the police chief. With a confident stride he made his way to the center of the formation walking shoulder to shoulder with the heavily armed Marines.
The Marines don’t mind such displays, they aren’t here for the credit, but they do take pride in the city’s success due to their provided security. The bullet-hole riddled bazaar is now one of the busiest shopping areas in southern Helmand and is the largest in the Marine controlled area, said Garth.
Helping stimulate local economy, creating positive economic impact for the region, is one of many steps in the rebuilding process for the Garmsir district which include respiration payments for damaged property, digging wells, improving irrigation, and improving infrastructure.
The 24th MEU will perform these tasks in conjunction with ISAF and Afghan National Army and Police forces until the end of their deployment.