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U.S. General Still Upbeat Despite Marjah, Afghanistan Gov't Shift

Skeptics might look at the departure of the governor of Afghanistan's Marjah District after only months in office as just another sign that NATO's efforts to use that area as a model for progress in the rest of that country aren't going well.

But there's another way to view it and that's how NATO commander for Afghanistan's southwest region, Marine Maj. Gen. Richard Mills says he sees it.

It's a shift, Mills says, from an official with not much executive experience to one with more, a good thing if you're trying to gain the upper hand on the Taliban by establishing a functioning government in Marjah.

The news of the replacement of Marjah governor, Haji Zahir, with another Afghan official, one  from Kabul, came in Mills' response to a question from Morning Edition co-host Renee Montagne.

An excerpt:

MONTAGNE: The new governor of the district, Haji Zahir, has in fact shown himself to be someone who can go around the town and talk to people... But the U.S. State Department has said of him, one of the things he lacks is managerial experience and help in administering his town and his district. Is that going to change soon? I guess I’m asking, the much-touted ‘government in a box,’ was that maybe over-sold simply because the Afghan central government can't really provide that?

MILLS: Renee, very timely question, as a matter of fact. I can report to you, as a matter of fact, that Haji lost the job yesterday. He was replaced by a new governor who has come down with some experience from Kabul to take over.

They swapped yesterday, they swapped positions. They did so very peacefully and with good feelings on both sides. Haji Zahir did a lot. He did a lot. He has been governor there during very traumatic period obviously. He got the district center started, and began to get the beginnings, I think, of a local government, based on shuras, based on a civil council that he gathered of local elders who could advise him on issues.

And he did his best, I think, under some very trying times. They have now brought in a professional who I have not yet met. I'm going to meet him on Wednesday as a matter of fact. He took over yesterday. As I said, a very peaceful transition of power. Each of them shook hands and wished each other well. And we look for some improvement there in the government.

It is a difficult place to establish. You have to understand there was no government there five months ago, none. And it's a difficult place to attract government employees to. It's a harsh climate. It's a long ways from Kabul. But we're seeing the emergence, town by town, of effective government. It's slow. But we're seeing it and we think it's promising.

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