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Afghans in Nawa gather to open new city hall building

US Marine Corps News

By Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill, Regimental Combat Team 7

As Gulab Mangal, governor of Helmand Province, spoke to more than 100 citizens of Nawa during the opening ceremony of Nawa’s District Governance Center April 18, there was no English translation provided, only two seats for Marines, and a small of handful of Americans entered the building during the grand tour.

Most the Marines of 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and leaders from 1st Marine Division (Forward), who came to the event stood quietly in the back of the crowd of Afghans who attended the ceremony. Although Marines of 1/3 maintained security nearby with their Afghan National Police counterparts, the overall US military footprint at the event was kept to a minimum. It was evident that this event was a celebration of prosperity for the people of Nawa, by the people of Nawa.

“The opening of the Nawa District Center building here is a very happy time,” said Mangal, who arrived by helicopter from the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah before the ceremony. “Three years ago, nobody ever expected that we could come to Nawa and open a government building for the people here. Our schools and clinics will soon follow, and those will be good as well.”

Citizens, elder men, and community and government leaders from Nawa praised the opening of the DGC, which will function as a city hall in the heart of Nawa District. Many talked about how the look of the reconstructed building, with its open-air courtyard surrounded by painted white walls and gold-tinted glass, is a significant improvement from its war-torn and neglected state in which Marines of 1/3 first saw it when they came to Nawa in December.

“Think back to what this building used to look like – the windows gone, the bullet holes and everything a mess,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commanding general of 1st MarDiv (FWD), who was honored by Afghan leaders with a ceremonial headdress before speaking at the ceremony. “Now look up in front of you and see what can happen when a community comes together and decides it wants to make a change.”

Construction of the building initially began in 2008, but the contractor’s funding ran out and there was significant increase in violence in the area in early 2009. British forces then used it as their patrol base headquarters in Nawa, and it was the site of numerous firefights. The damage to the building climaxed during Operation Khanjar last summer, when Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers first pushed into Nawa and were attacked there while trying to flush insurgents from the area, said Maj. Rudy Quiles, who leads the civil affairs team in Nawa and helped organize reconstruction efforts for the DGC.

The building was, until recently, a mess of battle-scarred brick walls, rotting wood, broken windows, without a roof and had piles of rubble strewn around it.

Over the past eight months, Afghan contractors have transformed DGC into a functioning two-story office building, which boasts amenities like electricity, running water and air conditioning. The DGC will be the center of government for Nawa, not only housing the offices of local government leaders, but also key government offices such as financial managers, courts and legal staffs, investigators, religious advisors, as well as representatives from the ministries of agriculture, reconstruction and development, education and cultural affairs, among others.

“The offices will serve as the visible presence of the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and serve as the coordination hub for further development and stability operations for the district,” said Quiles.

Before the construction of the DGC, citizens here often had trouble coordinating government functions because offices were separate and so far away from one another. Now there are no excuses and we can better serve the people, said Mangal.

“The people of Nawa will now always have an office to serve them,” said Mangal. “Take good care of this building, you’ve worked hard for it. Let it serve the people of Nawa well for a long time.”

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