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Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Sunday, 14 February 2010

Success of Moshtarak hinges upon winning people's trust

By Frank Gardner
BBC News, Kandahar airbase

British soldier takes a retina image of an Afghan near Marjah on 13 February 2010
Nato-led forces want to persuade the people they plan to stick around

Nato-led forces are continuing with what they call the "clearing phase" of Operation Moshtarak.

Compound by compound, they are eliminating the improvised explosive devices that the Taliban have left behind in the Nad Ali area, where the British task force is based.

The Americans, I think it's fair to say, are having a bit more of a tough time, further to the south, in the Marjah area.

Why?

Because it is a bigger area and they didn't have the opportunity to carry out any kind of probing patrols in the days leading up to it, whereas the UK forces had already been on the ground.

The British soldiers and the Afghan troops partnered with them are going solid on the ground that they have taken.

Winning an argument

On Sunday, they are holding a shura - a tribal council of elders - to try to convince the local population that they are there to stay and that they are going to provide security.

It really is in many ways about winning an argument against the Taliban, but with the local people.

Afghan and UK troops in Helmand on 13 February 2010
Nato are keen to stress this is a joint operation

What Nato and their Afghan partners are trying to do is to convince the people of central Helmand that they are better off siding with them.

But local people have got a great deal of scepticism - and with good reason.

In many cases the symbol of Afghan national government here is the local police, who are often corrupt.

The police are badly paid, they set up illegal checkpoints, they take money from people, they are involved in the abduction of children - they have got a dreadful reputation.

So the police that they are going to bring in to consolidate security are a different force - not the usual ones.

I've been told that the troops will set up patrol bases in the near future in the areas that they have taken.

Hand-holding

These will be jointly manned by Afghan soldiers, who have quite a good reputation, and Nato troops who will stay - and I think that is the big thing.

They have got to try to reassure people.

Because if you're an Afghan villager, you are going to be thinking: "Well if I make friends with Nato, Nato aren't going to stay, and the Taliban are just going to come and get me."

So really they have got to try to win that argument.

The Afghan forces have got plenty of will and gusto, but they lack equipment, they lack training, they lack the ability to plan.

They are very good at getting involved, but they need to be led and they don't think beyond the next operation.

They are going to need a lot of hand-holding, but Nato are very keen to stress that this is a joint operation - Operation Moshtarak, meaning joint, partnered or shared.

Its success or failure depends on whether the clearing phase can be swiftly followed by security and good governance, something that has been all too rare here in the troubled south of this country.

Frank Gardner was speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr programme.

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