The Killing Fields of Marja

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Maxx A. Juusola, with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, gives an Afghan man a free radio after inputting his data into a biometrics automated tool set near Marjah, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2010. The biometrics tool is used to easily identify Afghans in the local area. (DoD photo by Cpl. Albert F. Hunt, U.S. Marine Corps/Released)

Updated with an addendum (see below)

The HTS (Human Terrain System) and the U. S. Marine operations in Marja had nothing to do with the presence of the Taleban resistance forces, “winning the hearts and minds of Afghans”, “winning the cooperation of Afghan civilians”, or “uprising against the insurgency”.

The representation of Marja as a “rural community” and its population as “the prize” and “center of gravity”, are part of an elaborate deflecting strategy by the U. S. military machine in order to disguise what Operation Moshtarak was really all about. Invoking the irrelevant typologies of “village”, “town”, “city”, “metropolis”, “megalopolis” from an introductory sociology textbook are a layer in this diversionary strategy designed to camouflage what really happened in the desert to the north of the point where Helmand and Arghandab rivers meet, about sixty miles west of Kandahar city. Here is where Marja, Girishk, Lashkar Gah, and Nad-e ‘Ali are located. The area is the site of imposing ruins of ancient Qala-ye Bust and Lashkari Bazar on the once fertile but now deserted eastern banks of the Helmand River. Girishk, Lashkar Gah (called Bust in Afghan government publications during late 1950s to 1967), and Nad-e ‘Ali are named in the media as the staging points of Operation Moshtarak. The desert in which Marja, Girishk, Lashkar Gah, and Nad-e ‘Ali, are located received technical assistance for irrigation from the Germans and the Japanese during the 1930s. The American interest in this area followed these activities. The United States government has the deepest and most intimate historical relationship and familiarity with this sparsely populated area and the nearby Helmand and Arghandab watersheds.  A general photographic and descriptive survey of Afghanistan with concentration on deserts and major river systems was published in 1943 by the U. S. Geological Survey. In fact, in several important respects, these four locations owe their origin and demographic, physical, and political characteristics to the American presence in this area during the late 1940s and 1950s when extensive surveys of the Helmand and Arghandab river systems were conducted by the Idaho based Morrison-Knudsen company and the U. S. Geological Survey.

SPOT THE LIE: The original caption states "Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., talks with HSC 1/6 Marines that are deployed in Marjah, Afghanistan, Apr. 29, 2010. Casey told the Marines he was impressed and later said "I walked DOWNTOWN in a place we couldn't even fly over two months ago." Army photo by D. Myles Cullen (U.S. Deparmen of Defense, released)

I cannot find the place name “Marja” (or Marjah, Marjeh) in writing or local lore before 1956. The Gazetteer of Afghanistan (1914 [Adamec 1980]) compiled by the British colonial government of India during late 19th and early 20th centuries does not include a place, a community, a tribe, or a tribal segment named Marja. Nor is there any reference in this comprehensive historical and ethnographic source to Lashkar Gah, Nad-e ‘Ali, and Girishk. To my knowledge, the place name Marja first appears in print during the construction of dams on the Helmand and Arghandab rivers in early 1950s by the Morrison-Knudsen (Morrison-Knudsen-Afghanistan [MKA]) construction company as part of an irrigation and resettlement project undertaken by the government of Afghanistan for which it created a cabinet level bureaucracy named the “Helmand-Arghandab Valley Authority” (HAVA)—modeled after the TVA, Tennessee Valley Authority. An American engineer, Paul Jones (1956), an employee of MKA during 1951-53, mentions “Marja Desert” in his published recollections of his work for MKA. The 1956/57-1961/62 five year plan of the government of Afghanistan refers to Marja as “a new desert project…with 26,700 net irrigable acres” (p. 39). The etymology of Marja is rooted in the word “Maar”, snake in Farsi and Paxto. The parched flat desert in which Marja is located is the area where in earlier centuries a branch of Helmand River had dispersed into smaller streams leaving behind the effect of winding dried beds of water which might have been called Maarjoi (Farsi, snake stream). The Geographic Names Division of the U. S. Army (1971:93) for Afghanistan lists “Marjeh” in explicit preference to “Marja” (probably through a Tehrani phonetic construction) at 31.31N, 64.07E, identical to coordinates listed for Marja in Wikipedia. However, Louis Dupree (1973: 738), with archaeological and ethnographic (1956) experience in the area and a longtime collaborator with the intelligence and military agencies of the United States, locates Marja at 34.20N, 61.59E.

The Afghan government publications “Second Five Year Plan, 1962-1967” and “Third Five Year Plan, 1967-1971”  and the “Survey of Progress” reports for the years 1960 to 1969-1970 repeatedly refer to problems of drainage and extensive salinity in Marja and the surrounding area. American sources repeat and elaborate these problems (United States Operations Mission 1958, 1960, 1961). The most detailed descriptions of the plans and prospects of Marja are described by Aloys Michel (1959). He describes Marja as a 27,000 acre tract occupied by 18 villages, each village housing 40 families (pp. 180-184). If these figures have real human counterparts, we could imagine Marja with a population of 720 families. The average size of these families could reasonably be estimated at five individuals. Thus, theoretically, Marja would have had a population of about 3,600 during 1957—the year of Aloys Michel conducted research in Afghanistan. Michel indicates about the same acreage and population for Nad-e ‘Ali, about ten miles to the southeast of Marja. Lashkar Gah (31.8N, 64.20E), the Afghan government administrative center for HAVA, is located about 7 miles southeast of Nad-e ‘Ali.  Michel (1959: 171) provides a detailed drawing of the locations of Marja and Nad-e ‘Ali in relationship to the Boghra canal which diverted water from the Helmand River.

In 1958, under the sponsorship of the U. S. International Cooperation Agency (ICA), aerial maps of Afghanistan were produced by the Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Inc. The Afghanistan Institute of Cartography was established in that year in the Afghan Defense Ministry. Some of these detailed maps are available in the 6 volume Gazetteer of Afghanistan. Marja is not listed in these maps. A large (4 by 3 ft) wall map of Afghanistan I purchased in 1970 from this institute does not list Marja. Highly detailed maps of Kabul and its surrounding rural communities were available at the institute. A very detailed aerial map of the city of Kandahar and its adjacent rural areas is printed in the 1958 booklet by the United States Operations Mission to Afghanistan (not paginated). In its detail, this map is comparable to the map that is attached to the 27 June 2010 posting by Maximillian Forte. A large selection of these highly detailed maps and drawings for the area that surrounds Marja is provided in the volume about the Shamalan project produced by the  United States Department of the Interior (1967).

Until 1960 Afghanistan was divided into seven provinces (sing. wilayat). The Helmand and Arghandab watersheds were part of the Kandahar Province. By 1969 Afghanistan was reorganized into 28 provinces. Helmand province was created out of the western part of the old Kandahar province. The newly built Lashkar Gah (31.35N, 64.21E [Dupree 1973: 727]) settlement at the confluence of Helmand and Arghandab rivers, near the ruins of historic Qala-ye Bust, became the  administrative center of Helmand province. In 1967 Lashkar Gah “municipality” (in this case a sub-province, hukumati) had a total population of 27,407—4844 “urban” and 22,563 “rural” in 19 villages (Survey of Progress 1968-1969: 39). During 1967 the Helmand Province (including the places named here) had a total population of 302,842 (Government of Afghanistan 1968: 40). According to Samad Salah (2010), a German-educated geologist and former Afghan minister of mines and industries, by 1965 Marja consisted of a cluster of less than a dozen shambled houses occupied by about fifty people in the midst of a totally flat dry desert. Salah had visited Marja as a member of the joint Afghan-German geological survey of Afghanistan during 1965.

The American presence in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces through the Morrison-Knudsen Company and the U. S. Geological Survey during the 1950s and early 1960s created the cultural effect of a colonial “Little America” in Southwest Afghanistan (Hanifi, in press, [see Beardsley 1959 and Jones 1956 for personal accounts of this effect]). But the U.S.-led combined American and Afghan material investment in the Helmand-Arghandab irrigation and resettlement project produced negligible economic developmental results for Afghanistan. The reasons for this failure are discussed in detail by Dupree (1973) and Stevens and Tarzi (1965). Environmental changes including the significant decline in the Helmand River water level also contributed to this wasteful effort (Hanifi 2003). The current American imperial venture in Afghanistan echoes the wastefulness of the Helmand-Arghandab venture. Only now the cost to Afghanistan includes the massacre of hundreds of thousands of innocent, unarmed, and helpless Afghans by the American military machine fueled by Zionism and the American-Israeli weapons industries.

How did Marja, the ill-planned rural community for 18 villages and 3600 souls in the middle of a vast dry and flat desert during the 1950s and an off the main track ruin housing about 50 residents during the 1960s become the home for 80-85,000 Afghan farmers in a plush agricultural environment hosting the Taleban armed resistance? The answer is simple. The area in which Marja is located has been surveyed, mapped, and explored by the United States decades ago. The purpose of Operation Moshtarak was not to drive out the Taleban; there were no Taleban; the objective of OM was to test new high-tech weapon systems currently being developed in Israel and the United States and being tested on live human beings in a very well known, perhaps the best known area of Afghanistan.Talk of 30,000 heroic American troops, invading the “city”, “village”, or “town” of Marja and circulating digital pictures of plush agricultural oases in the middle of what in reality is a parched and totally dry desert are all part of an elaborate scam by the armed forces of the United States and its allies. Inflating quantity is driven by chunks of venture capital. On a deeper level, this is another symptom of the American malaise of disinclination (perhaps inability) to conceptualize cultural and social reality.

During the 1950s the population of Afghanistan was estimated at about ten million. In early 1970s AID (in the context of a family guidance project) estimated the settled population of Afghanistan at 10,020,099 (AID and Government of Afghanistan 1975, v. 1, p. 15). The nomadic population of the country could be estimated at 3-4 million which will gives us 14 million for the 1970s before the upheavals triggered by the 1978 revolution. During the 1980s the American government and international agencies began using the figure 20 million. The current number being circulated for the population of Afghanistan being by its occupiers is 30 million. I have even seen the figure 35 million. How is this tripling demographic effect in fifty years possible while global population has only doubled during the same period—from 3 billion in the late sixties to the current 6 billion? This kind of exaggerated quantification of the population of Afghanistan becomes even more problematic if we consider some unique depressive demographic dynamics in the country. Five to six million Afghans have migrated to Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere over the last thirty years. Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate and the highest post-partum death rate for women in the world. It is widely stated that about two million Afghans lost their lives in the 1980s during the Russian occupation and the American sponsored assembly-line “jehad”. But large numbers of consumers or clients—real or fictive–generates larger pieces of pieces of capital, larger military and civilian (NGO) presence, more killing machines, expanded employment opportunities for young Americans. In America quantity trumps quality.

Talk of “success”, “failure”, or other outcomes of Operation Moshtarak is an affair in the production and circulation of packages of lies by the American military and the collaborating media. For an HTS social scientist to conclude that she had become “quite impressed by the hospitality of the Afghans” through interviews with Afghans in Helmand is a bizarre way of distilling and digesting a profoundly complex local cultural construct. This kind of scripted simplistic prattle is indeed very thin “C3”—HTS’ “cross-cultural competence”—totally uninformed by the cultural, historical, and political complexities of Afghanistan. The positive and negative results of Operation Moshtarak are available only in the research laboratories of American and Israeli manufacturers of high-tech weapons.

Some questions about the design and public face of Operation Moshtarak (Farsi, combined, together—“amaliyat-e moshtarak”!! This phrase does not produce cultural gravity in a Paxru speaking place where Marja is allegedly located. If the target of OM is a Paxtun community, why not use Paxtu language ingredients like “yaw-zaee ‘amaliyat”? Were there Paxtu speakers in the 4000 Afghan soldiers who accompanied the Americans in this exercise of togetherness? Why were the Afghan interpreters (“terps”) whose voices we could regularly hear in the media coverage of OM all speaking Farsi? Is there a relationship between the Northern Alliance and the “National Army of Afghanistan”? Theoretically, what are the implications of a strictly Farsi-speaking armed force of Afghanistan a large unit of which accompanies foreign invaders in high-tech experiments in a Paxtu-speaking neighborhood of the country? Whichever way these questions are pitched and answered, operation togetherness is another bloody step toward the political fragmentation and eventual destruction of Afghanistan by the dark minded American imperium.

For the United States Afghanistan is the real human version of violent video games on which young Americans spend 5-6 hours daily. Afghanistan has become a human laboratory for testing Pain Rays, Microwave Weapons, and depleted uranium. The number of defective newborns in Afghanistan has skyrocketed. But it would be unrealistic to expect anything else from a state that has a thick file of crimes against humanity. Let us recall the massacre of hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Vietnam; the Tuskegee experiment and who knows how many more like it; the massacre of exactly 3,000 innocent Afghans in Dasht-e Lailee in a delusionary exchange with the “3000” casualties of 9/11; the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and Guantanemo; the bloody depopulation of Faluja and Haditha; the conversion of the secular state of Iraq into a theocracy; subsidizing and being a partner-in-crime with fascist Israel. Everything touched by this fascist apparatus has turned to dust. Afghanistan is the latest victim of this American Zionist-controlled killing machine.

So, President Obama, General Petraeus, Dr. McFate, the crowd at Ft. Leavenworth, and the wielders of joysticks in the Nevada airbase stop this cowardly, Zionist-fueled bloodbath in Afghanistan. Stop covering it up and lying about it. But no matter how crafty your disguise and cover-ups, some of us can see right through them. History will remember your savagery in Afghanistan and Iraq by discharging saliva symbolically aimed at your face. The people of Afghanistan will never trust you just as you have not and will never trust them. Every Afghan hand you shake is physically and ritually cleaned as soon as you disappear. Underneath all those Afghan smiles and gestures that you confuse with hospitality are oceans of energy screaming: O sarkooza! palida! de ma la korna woowza!! Stop killing unarmed Afghan children and women. Stop polluting our land and culture. Our resistance to your defiling presence is eternal. Get the hell out of our lives! Go home, attend to the decayed cultural and social spaces from sea to shining sea.

SPOT THE LIE: The original caption states, "Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen holds a shura with Afghan leaders in Marjah, Afghanistan, March 30, 2010. Mullen addressed concerns they may have after THE SUCCESSFUL REMOVAL OF TALIBAN FORCES FOLLOWING OPERATION MOSHTARAK, which took place in February." (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, U.S. Navy/Released)

Addendum (19 July 2010)

Producing Proof for the “Killing Fields of Marja”

What I wrote in the “Killing Fields of Marja” dealt with the dynamics of and the relationships among several cultural and social aspects of Operation Moshtarak. Establishing the validity and internal consistency of these dynamics requires competence in and/or familiarity with the historical, ethnographic, geographic, and demographic realities of the region where this operation allegedly took place. Human culture and cultural constructs are arbitrary. Validity and verifiability, indeed “proof”, are appropriate givens in an anthropological discourse about cultural constructs and social processes. Culture and social relations are not mathematical arrangements. Logical or illogical outcomes are givens in armchair mathematical formulations.

Meaningful participation in discourse about the military and political dynamics of  Operation Moshtarak requires knowledge about the bloody history, structure and operations of the American and Israeli weapons industries and an adequate dose of critical awareness about the thinking and behavior of a desperate, capital-driven, and disintegrating post-industrial imperial apparatus using pre-industrial Afghanistan as a human laboratory for the development of tactics, strategies, and high-tech weapons in fearful anticipation of population centered wars in Afghanistan, Palestine, Watts, East St. Louis, Chicago, and in other locations superpower hubris might take the imperial dragon. Jeremy, Max, and others on this blog have provided us with rich analytical discourse about this aspect of Operation Moshtarak and its HTS component.

Here, somewhat risking accusations of naivety, but counting on Matt’s devotion to the truth and his sense of righteousness, I want to accept his challenge for the production of proof for my claims about Operation Moshtarak in Helmand and Kandahar provinces earlier this year. Not that I “want a *really* great article” but to produce “relevant and factual observations” and to “SHOW how it can be proven (or even reasonably understood) that military operations have been initiated [in Afghanistan] as a vehicle to conduct commercial scientific tests on human beings” and to ethnographically verify that the Helmand and Kandahar provinces of Afghanistan have been regularly used by the U. S. military and  American-Israeli weapons industry as experimental killing fields, I propose a two week ethnographic tour of the culturally constructed spaces bordered by a line stretching from Kandahar city to the Kajaki dam to Girishk to Nad-e ‘Ali to Lashkar Gah to Kandahar city. Participants in the tour will include Matt, General David Petraeus, Dr. Montgomery McFate, their interpreter, and this writer. This writer will be accompanied by three individuals, two observers and a journalist. Matt, Pertaeus, and McFate, as a triad, will exercise the same option.

All eleven members of the group will be unarmed and dressed in culturally proper civilian clothes. Except for the two journalists, members of the tour will carry no electronic devices. The journalists will produce audio-visual recordings of all transactions between members of the tour and the local population.  There will be no military presence or involvement of any kind in this tour by NATO and its subsidiaries in the Kabul government including the “national” Afghan army and police. This will be guaranteed publicly by the commander of the NATO occupation forces in Afghanistan. This writer will be responsible for his own travel expenses and lodging arrangements for the entire group for the duration of the tour. He will also be responsible for local transportation and the security of the group. Members of the tour will meet on September 1, 2010 at Shahre-Safa, about 20 miles east of Kandahar city. The tour will commence on this date and end on September 15, 2010 at Shahr-e Safa. The group will travel throughout the area and will engage in informal civil interaction including, participant observation and open ended interviews, with randomly selected members of the local population in twelve selected human settlements throughout the area indicated above. The subject of these interactions will be the contents of what has been written on this post dealing with military operations in Helmand and Kandahar provinces including the contents of “The Killing Fields of Marja”. During the week after the tour, starting on September 17th, all members of the tour will gather in a public forum and air out what they have learned about Operation Moshtarak during this ethnographic tour.  Three public forums will be held: Kabul (September 17th), London (September 19th), and New York (September 21st).

Matt, please start the ball rolling for your-self, General Pertaeus, Dr. McFate, interpreter, two observers, and a journalist. My team of four is ready. I look forward to meeting members of this ethnographic tour at noon on September 1, 2010 at Shahr-e Safa, Kandahar province, Afghanistan.


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