Hundreds of civilians have already fled Marjah, and the Afghan government insists it has made preparations to feed up to 6,000 displaced families. But with the Helmand region containing over 100,000 civilians, the largest NATO offensive since the 2001 invasion could easily overwhelm this capacity.
This has led NATO and the Afghan government to urge Marjah’s civilian populace to “stay put” while the troops mass along the outskirts of their region. They insist civilians “will not be harmed,” but with an enormous number of foreign troops primed for action and the Taliban planting explosives anywhere and everywhere, a significant civilian toll seems inevitable.
This has led the Red Cross to voice concerns about what the Marjah invasion will do to the access to emergency health care in the region, already under serious strain after nearly a decade of war. Marjah has no hospitals at all, but only a small first-aid post. The closest hospital is about 40 km away in Lashkar Gah.
The US says that the primary goal of the Marjah invasion is to install Haji Zair, who Afghan President Hamid Karzai appointed as governor of the region but who has been unable even to travel to Marjah, where the Karzai government has no presence. Marjah has not been under the control of the Afghan government since the 2001 invasion.