Progress in Marjah has been slow, however, in part because no one who planned the operation realized how hard it would be to convince residents that they could trust representatives of an Afghan government that had sent them corrupt police and inept leaders before they turned to the Taliban.
A hundred days after US-led forces launched the offensive, Marjah markets are thriving, the local governor has begun to build a skeleton staff, and contractors have begun work on rebuilding schools, canals, and bridges.
Marines are running into more firefights on their patrols, however. Taliban insurgents threaten and kill residents who cooperate with the Americans, and it will be months before a permanent police force is ready to take control of the streets from the temporary force that's brought some stability to Marjah.
The US-backed Marjah governor, Marine officials said, has five top ministers. Eight of 81 certified teachers are on the job, and 350 of an estimated 10,000 students are going to school.
In an attempt to contain the creeping Taliban campaign, Lt. Col. Christmas's 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment in northern Marjah recently ceded direct control of an outlying rural area, collapsed its battle space and moved a company back into the population center, which had been neglected.
"There was no security," said Haji Mohammed Hassan, a tribal elder whose fear of the Taliban prompted him to leave Marjah two weeks ago for the relative safety of Helmand's nearby provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.